FIFA chief sets-up task force to protect 'the game'

Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, football's world body, has vowed to stop "greed ruling the world of football". In an outspoken article for the London-based Financial Times (subscription reuired), Blatter observed that football is now a hugely lucrative global business but "the haphazard way in which money has flowed into the game — reminiscent of a misguided, wild west style of capitalism — is having some seriously harmful effects."

"A fortunate few clubs are richer than ever before. What makes this a matter of concern is that, all too often, the source of this wealth is individuals with little or no history of interest in the game, who have happened upon football as a means of serving some hidden agenda," he said. "Having set foot in the sport seemingly out of nowhere, they proceed to throw pornographic amounts of money at it. What they do not understand is that football is more about grass-roots than idols; more about giving entertainment and hope to the many than bogus popularity to a predictable few; more about respecting others than sating individual greed, whether for adulation or money."

Commenting on the practice, in Latin America especially, of speculators buying the commercial rights to promising child players, he described the trend as a "new form of slavery".

"Equally unacceptable," he added, "are the sort of wage negotiations that can produce the spectacle of semi-educated, sometimes foul-mouthed, players on £100,000 a week holding clubs to ransom until they get, say, £120,000. More often than not, these players are guided in these endeavours by unsavoury agents.

"It is simply insane for any player to 'earn' £6 million-£8 million a year when the annual budget of even a club competing in the Uefa Champions League may be less than half that. What logic, right or economic necessity would qualify a man in his mid-20s to demand to earn in a month a sum that his own father - and the majority of fans - could not hope to earn in a decade?"

Blatter also blamed the influx of hugely-wealthy owners for causing football to become predictable.

"Unlimited cash has given a handful of club owners the wherewithal to control the global club game by splashing unimaginable sums on a tiny group of elite players. More than ever before, the majority are fighting with spears, while the greedy few have the financial equivalent of nuclear warheads.

"No wonder empty seats in stadiums and saturation live television coverage of matches have become issues. What is interesting about a league whose champions can be predicted with confidence after about five games?

"Why is it good for football to take the excitement away from fans by overcharging them for tickets to see 'their' team? And is it really still 'their' team when one club in England has a squad with 19 nationalities? What we are faced with today is a football society of haves and have nots."

Blatter insists a new FIFA task force set up to deal with corruption and multiple ownership issues will curb the sport's excesses.

"FIFA cannot sit by and see greed rule the football world. Nor shall we. The time has come to take action to curb the excesses and ensure that the sport protects its roots.

"If nothing is done, this new money could suffocate a sport that has no fewer than 1.3 billion active followers around the world. The professional game is now shot through with practices that, at best, expose the ugly side of club football and, at worst, threaten its very existence."

The full text of the article is now available online at FIFA.

See also: FIFA's chief Sepp Blatter's thoughts on Asia (16 Sept)