Sepp Blatter: London 2012 and beyond
Olympic football has been a staple part the Games’ programme since the 1900 Paris Games, though it took another 96 years before women’s football was added to the agenda at Atlanta 1996. As for London 2012, it was no surprise that football – the world’s most popular sport – proved a big draw for native and foreign spectators alike, accounting for nearly a quarter of all Olympic ticket sales. Aside from early ticketing distribution issues and an opening night mix-up between North and South Korean flags, football can be considered one of the success stories of this year’s Games.
Mexico provided the upset of the tournament, beating overwhelming favourites Brazil at Wembley to claim the gold medal in the men’s event, whilst USA women made it four gold medals out of a possible five since 1996, beating Japan 2-1 in the final. With the London Games behind him and the 2014 Fifa World cup on the horizon, SportsPro asks Fifa president Sepp Blatter to reflect on the 30th Olympiad and cast an eye forwards in an exclusive interview.
What was the overall experience of London 2012 like for your sport, in terms of event production, venue, crowds, global interest? Were the Olympics successful for you and what measurements have you used – TV audience, participation etc – to come to that conclusion?
The number of fans watching football at London 2012 broke many records with a total of over 1.5 million for the men and 660,000 for the women: that means football accounted for a quarter of all London 2012 ticket sales. There were also some very healthy TV figures. I read that the USA versus Japan women's Olympic gold medal match drew 4.35 million viewers, which apparently made it the most-watched event in history on the NBC Sports Network.
Seeing stadiums such as Wembley and Old Trafford full for an Olympic competition was brilliant, and the matches were played in the right spirit: respect for your opponents, self-discipline, but always competitive and determined to win. British fans have always been amongst the most knowledgeable and passionate in the world. They proved that during the Olympics, mixing with fans from all the many other nations. That created a wonderful atmosphere at other grounds in Cardiff, Glasgow, Newcastle and Coventry.
“British fans have always been amongst the most knowledgeable and passionate in the world. They proved that during the Olympics”
What was your own most memorable moment at London 2012?
There were very many memorable moments, and it’s always very hard to pick out just one. However, I’ll remember for a long time the spirit displayed by the Japanese women’s players as they re-entered the Wembley pitch for the medal ceremony. They had just been defeated by the USA in a pulsating final, but they came onto the field and podium arm in arm, with big smiles, waving to the crowd. It’s never easy to lose a big game, but those players really showed how to be gracious in defeat. It was a marvelous example for children watching around the world too.
Post-Olympics, what are the main priorities for your federation with regards to developing the sport in new markets?
On the field, it was very interesting to witness the growing strengths of different nations, with the so-called ‘traditional superpowers’ not having it all their own way. Many people thought that Brazil, with such a strong squad, were guaranteed to win the men’s gold medal. But Mexico have been very strong in the younger age groups – they won the last Fifa U17 World Cup – and have really concentrated on developing their football structures. Asian teams also featured prominently.
In the women’s competition, some African football followers were disappointed at the showing of their two teams. But it takes time to build from the grassroots, and you should not expect to see instant results. Hope Powell was Team GB women’s coach, and she has been involved in all facets of women’s football in England for over ten years. I hope that over time, African football associations begin to shine more of a focus on the women’s game too. Fifa can play a strong role in supporting this through our different development programmes.
What, ultimately, will the legacy of London 2012 be for your sport?
Prior to London 2012, there were many people writing that football had no place in the Olympics any longer, and that people were not going to be interested to watch the games in the stadiums. I think London 2012 provided the perfect answer to those questions. I am sure that with the destination of the next Olympics in Brazil, another country who love football with an equal passion as Great Britain, that people will come out again in their hundreds of thousands. And of course, perhaps finally the Brazilian men’s team will finally win the gold medal they so badly crave.
For the women’s game, we have seen big crowds before, both at the Olympics and at previous editions of the Fifa Women’s World Cup. I have said for many years that the future of football is feminine. Earlier this year we had the first woman join the Fifa Executive Committee. More girls and women are playing the game than ever before, and as the USA coach Pia Sundhage said after the women’s final, the gap between the top nations is becoming closer, whilst the technical levels are getting better. This all suggests that the women’s game is very much on an upward curve. London 2012, as their slogan said, will have ‘inspired a generation’.
“I have said for many years that the future of football is feminine”
What can the Olympics learn from football and what can football learn from the Olympics?
At the Fifa Congress earlier this year, Fifa entered into a partnership with the Nobel Peace Centre, where we committed to introducing a new procedure known as the ‘Handshake for Peace’. With this new protocol, the referee and team captains will now not only shake hands before the match starts, but meet again at the same place on the pitch directly after the final whistle, closing the game with the ‘Handshake for Peace’. We introduced this concept a little during London 2012, and I thought it complimented the sporting behaviour exemplified by Olympians from across the 25 other sports.
Footballers, like Olympians prepare very hard for major competitions, and there always has to be winners and losers. Winning a World Cup medal or an Olympic gold medal are both achievements that boys and girls dream of winning as they grow up, but only a very few get to really achieve this. In football, at every level of the professional game, the stakes seem to get higher and higher. But still we must try and educate our athletes that fair play, respect and discipline are also important, and that upholding these should be the rule, not the exception.
This interview with Fifa president Sepp Blatter forms part of an extensive survey, featuring comments from 21 International Federation chiefs, to be published in the October and November editions of SportsPro. To subscribe to SportsPro click here.
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