Blatter defends World Cup choices


GENEVA, December 22 – FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Wednesday defended the "historic" choice of Russia and Qatar to host the World Cups in 2018 and 2022, calling it part of a "natural" progression into new regions.The head of world football’s governing body also paid tribute to South Africa’s role in organising the world’s most watched sporting event on the African continent for the first time.

"2010 has been a year of ‘fulfilment’, a historic year, one in which we’ve broken new ground," Blatter said in an end-of-year interview on FIFA’s website.

"We have made historic decisions in terms of sport and geopolitics. We’ve sent the World Cup to new territories," in eastern Europe and the Arab world, he added.

"When I became the FIFA President, the decision was made to go into Asia. And then I said we had to go to Africa, which is what we did."

"It’s only natural, then, that we should keep on moving into new regions."

Blatter said he was delighted with the executive committee’s choice of Russia and Qatar this month and suggested that critics did not understand that there was "more to football than just kicking a ball".

"The sporting media don’t always appreciate the social or cultural importance of awarding the World Cup finals to a country," he explained.

"They just think about penalties, corners, refereeing and money. But, as I’ve already said, this decision wasn’t about making money."

"The socio-cultural impact of the game on the future of our society is a subject that is close to my heart," he added in the guise of a message for the football Confederations’ Congresses, in Doha, Qatar on January 7.

The 74 year-old Swiss head of FIFA, who is expected to stand for re-election in May, said the World Cup in South Africa had "a phenomenal impact".

"Back in 2004, when the competition was awarded to South Africa, the country was a young republic that had been in existence for ten years and was looking to find its place in the modern world

"Since then, both the rest of the world and South Africa itself have come to realise just how important a country it is."

He nonetheless expressed disappointment that more African national sides apart from Ghana did not make it to the second round of the competition.