FIFA boss on the defensive

Sepp Blatter apologises to FAI

December 2, 2009

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has apologised to the Republic of Ireland for earlier comments which dismissed their hopes of being granted an additional place at next summer's World Cup finals.

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) requested FIFA include them as a 33rd team in South Africa in the wake of Thierry Henry's infamous handball.

Blatter raised the subject at the Soccerex conference in Johannesburg earlier this week and his words were greeted with laughter from some delegates and journalists present.

Including them at the finals would have been an unprecedented move and would set a dangerous precedent, Blatter acknowledged.

However, the FAI withdrew the proposal prior to Wednesday afternoon's emergency meeting of the FIFA executive committee and following the meeting, Blatter expressed remorse for his previous comments.

"We have received a letter from the FAI withdrawing their demand to be accepted as team number 33,'' he said. "I would like to express my regrets to a wrong interpretation of what I said and to the FAI I'm sorry about the headlines going around the world.

"I have nothing against the Irish, they were very sporting when they came to FIFA.''

Irish chiefs earlier launched a scathing attack on Blatter, accusing him of making details of what they claim were private discussions public, and for expressing empathy with Henry amid the backlash over his "cheating''.

In addition, they have demanded that tournament rules are not changed halfway through by the introduction of video replays and goal-line assistant referees, but requested such methods be implemented in future to avoid similar controversy.

In a lengthy statement, the FAI said: "The Football Association of Ireland acknowledges that the suggestion of an additional place at the World Cup is not a possibility and has requested yesterday that it will not be raised at today's FIFA executive committee meeting.

"The FAI has already clarified that this matter was peripheral, was not raised in any of its formal written submissions to FIFA and was explored only fleetingly as part of a wide-ranging 90-minute discussion with that body.

"Regrettably, the matter appears to have been singled out in public by Mr Blatter despite his assurances that the meeting would remain private.

"Instead of diverting attention, we would prefer that Mr Blatter uses this opportunity to deal with the issues which have been raised formally for the benefit of football worldwide.

"1. Ensure that FIFA's rules cannot be changed midway through a tournament, for whatever reason, commercial or otherwise.

"2. Introduce video technology for matches at the highest level, which has been resisted for too long and which would have avoided the error that led, in part, to today's meeting.

"3. Implement additional goal-line assistant referees for all FIFA international matches.

"4. In future, introduce stronger sanctions for players involved in match-defining breaches of the laws of the game.

"5. Issue a clear statement that FIFA does not condone breaches of the laws of the game. For a man in Mr Blatter's position to empathise with someone who scored a goal by cheating is inappropriate.

"The FAI raised these matters only so that the likelihood of such incidents recurring be reduced and now leaves their consideration in the hands of football's world governing body.''

In line with the FAI's request, the FIFA executive committee this afternoon rejected a proposal to have the experimental system of five referees involved in every match fast-tracked for next summer's tournament.

FIFA will maintain one referee with two assistants and a fourth official for the finals. It will open an inquiry into whether to bring in technology or have extra officials.