at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Budapest – A year on from his scandal-scarred re-election as Fifa president, Sepp Blatter told delegates at their annual conference on Friday that world soccer's governing body was taking big steps back to calmer times.
The 76-year-old Swiss, in his opening speech to delegates from Fifa's 208 member nations, said that they were moving back to a “safe harbour” after the events of last year in Zurich when he was re-elected unopposed for a fourth term against the backdrop of bribery and vote-rigging allegations.
In what was a relatively low-key address for the often upbeat leader of the world game, he meandered between the events of the last year and quiet moments of reflection of what lay ahead.
“A year ago I underlined to you the need for Fifa not to have a change but to adapt our organisation, and especially its governance, to modern times,” he said.
“I compared our institution to a boat which was sailing along – not always in very calm waters – and I'm sure with your help at the end of the Congress we will have brought back our boat in to the harbour, a port of tranquillity.”
He added: “It is not always easy to find solutions to the problems. When you are on the pitch it is easy enough, because you have the touchlines and the goallines and you have a ref and you play for 90 minutes. But outside the field there are no boundaries, and with 300 million people involved in football, you cannot control them all, it is impossible.”
And using words that echoed through a number of speeches made by other speakers, he said that “trust and confidence” were returning to world soccer's governing body.
“It is all about confidence and trust and when you re-elected me last year I said we have to go forward. We did it, together with the executive committee of Fifa – your, our, government – starting with different meetings and steps forward.”
Among the major changes made since last year, he said, were a review of Fifa's statutes, a woman joining the Executive Committee and the splitting of the Ethics Committee into adjudicatory and investigatory halves.
These issues were due to be discussed, or at least laid before delegates, during the Congress.
“We are on the right track because, besides the reforms, we also worked on the protection of the game ... so, we can say at the end we have made a big, big step forwards,” he said.
However, he added, there were still problems ahead, none more so than the troubles marring the preparations for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
“Its not all as easy as we hoped it would be but we can trust the government and football in Brazil for the organisation of the World Cup and the Confederations Cup,” he said.
This time last year Blatter was due to stand against Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam for the presidency but Bin Hamman pulled out of the contest just days before the vote was due.
He was later banned from football for life for his role in a bribery scandal which also ended the political football career of Jack Warner, a Fifa vice-president.
Bin Hammam's appeal against his ban is being considered by CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport. – Reuters