By Tom Degun in Singapore
August 12 - FIFA President Sepp Blatter told insidethegames tonight of his pleasure at seeing the Iranian girls team compete in the first match of the inaugural 2010 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Singapore despite their participation being in doubt for a long period ahead of the competition following a row over what the team were allowed to wear.
The Youth Olympics are not due to officially open until Saturday (August 14) but, as in the main Olympics, the football tournament group stages started two days before the Opening Ceremony with a gutsy Iran outfit losing out 4-2 to Turkey in front of Blatter.
The story of whether the Iranian side would compete in Singapore caused worldwide controversy earlier this year when FIFA were accused of racism and religious discrimination after the world governing body ruled that they could not play in headwear during the tournament because it broke the laws of the game.
Following FIFA’s decision, Iran withdrew from the event before Ali Kaffashian, the President of Iran’s Football Federation (IFF), held talks with he organisation and reached a compromise whereby a new set of clothing was designed that still covers the players heads in accordance with Islamic custom but does not break the laws of the game.
There were however, still fears that Iran would not take part when several officials recently objected to the new kit, which features a modest ensemble of pants, long sleeves, and high knee socks, with a cap that covers their hair.
But despite the whirlwind of publicity, the team put on a gutsy showing in Singapore that saw them lead 2-1 at half time before being pegged back.
Blatter admitted it was a pleasure to watch the game in person and gave the Iranian women’s team a glowing endorsement.
Blatter told insidethegames: "Iran fulfilled all the requirements that we asked.
"For me, it is important that football is open to all cultures and for girls everywhere.
"I think the Iranian girls, with their equipment, suffered with the heat.
"You could see it in the second half when they had only one or two attacks and by the way they positioned late on.
"But it was good to see them here and they did well."
Blatter continued that he was not supporting either Iran or Turkey while watching from the VIP box and said that he just enjoyed the spectacle.
He said: "I was supporting football.
"I am a goal scorer and there were six goals so I am happy.
"The problem with women’s football, especially in the age limits like under 15 or under-17, is goalkeeping.
"You often have goalkeepers making mistakes so you have to adjust as a team and we saw that here."
Blatter claimed the concept of the Youth Olympic Games is a fantastic move from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and that he is fully supportive of the competition.
He told insidethegames: "The essence of the Youth Olympic Games is not winning, or not even to make medals, but to bring the youth of the world together, to play and to have competition.
"The slogan for the Games from the IOC is about respect and education for youth.
"That is exactly where we want to go with football, to bring the youth of the world together.
"We have made the selection of the teams [at the Youth Olympics] so that they are not teams generally in the Olympic Games.
"It would be easy to have the likes of Brazil, Germany, England, all of these big teams.
"No, we don’t do that.
"Most teams here are not in Football Associations as they have not qualified or can’t qualify and the reason we have done that is because it is about bringing people here.
"The essential is not to play the best football but to bring people together and I think it is a good idea."
In their game, Turkey went ahead ina the sixth minute through Eda Karatas before Eda Duran scored an own goal seven minutes later.
Shahin Aflaki then put Iran ahead with a stunning free-kick and her side went in at half-time with a 2-1 lead.
However, they tired in the second half as Turkey claimed three goals quick goals in succession to put the game to bed with a flattering score line.
In the evening's other match, Chile beat Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 thanks to a stoppage time goal from substitute Melisa Rodriguez.
Tomorrow sees the boys in action with hosts Singapore likely play in front of a sell-out crowd at the Jalan Besar Stadium as they take on Zimbabwe.
Vanuatu meet Bolivia in the other game on Friday while Blatter will again be in attendance before leaving Singapore tomorrow night to go on holiday.
Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]
August 2010: Blatter to attend Iranian girls football team opening match in Singapore
May 2010: Exclusive - FIFA lift Olympic dress ban on Iranian women's team
April 2010: Blatter set to face tough questions in Iran after hijab ban
April 2010: Exclusive - Iran replaced by Thailand over Olympic hijab row
April 2010: Iran angry after women's football team banned from wearing hijab at Youth Olympics