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Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 12:29 GMT
Blatter warns on football corruption
By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News, Dubai

Fifa president Sepp Blatter
Mr Blatter wants racism in football stamped out

World football boss Sepp Blatter has warned that financial corruption in football is making the job of the referee harder than ever.

In a tough address to the Soccerex football business gathering in Dubai, he put the issue at the top of a list of problems the sport faces, including corruption, racism, club v country, the wealth of many European clubs, and the issue of home-grown players.

As he opened the tenth anniversary of the business seminar, he said that there needed to be professional referees in today's highly commercial game.

"The referees, the control of the game, is the most important issue," the Fifa president said.

"We need outstanding match control and strong referees."

Tackling corruption

The referee will still have the right to make a mistake, but at least he will be doing his job - it will not be a hobby, and he will have the respect of the coaches and teams
Sepp Blatter, Fifa president

Mr Blatter said that some investors wanted to put money into football "to take the best out, and not to serve football - this is a danger".

He pointed to recent scandals in Italy and Germany, where the crux of high-profile corruption was focussed on refereeing issues.

"In the last two years, when you see what has happened in professional football at the highest level, all the scandals in big football countries, always in the middle was the referee," Mr Blatter said.

"He was the man to be tackled, because he has such a responsibility. It is easier to tackle one, than to tackle a team or a coach. That is why we must protect the referee and his whole team of officials at the match."

Mr Blatter said that because there was "so much money" in football, it made the issue of professional referees more of an issue than ever.

"The referee will still have the right to make a mistake, but at least he will be doing his job - it will not be a hobby, and he will have the respect of the coaches and teams," he said.

'Good of the game'

Referee Alan Wiley confronted by Charlton Athletic players
Loneliest place in football - referees need more support, Mr Blatter says

Referees have increasingly been under the spotlight in England, where there is actually a pool of professional refs for the top games, but Mr Blatter bemoaned the fact that referees' organisations largely wanted to remain amateur.

"The clubs, the businesses, they want victory - but who will maintain the game in its boundaries of fair play and family entertainment? It is the referee."

Looking at the increasing ownership of English leading clubs by overseas billionaires, Mr Blatter said it was because the Premiership was the most attractive league.

"As long as the investors do it for the good of the game, and they promote the game in a sensitive manner, then we have no problems."

But Mr Blatter also said that in their desire for success, wealthy clubs in Europe were stockpiling the most talented players in the world, to the detriment of the game.

Youth players

We think that a squad of 24 players is what is required to compete in the top competitions
Peter Kenyon, Chelsea chief executive

"There is a traffic jam of players in Europe, the big clubs with a lot of money, they can afford to buy a lot of players, and the best players.

"They have 20, 25, 30 of the best, but essentially football is about 11 players."

He continued: "This is a sort of non-solidarity, to take the best players out of the market, so the others cannot get them."

Mr Blatter later said he was not referring to any specific club in England, and that the problem also occurred in Spain with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Peter Kenyon, chief executive of English champions Chelsea, who have been acquiring some of the world's best players, defended their strategy of buying top stars.

He told the BBC News website: "We think that a squad of 24 players is what is required to compete in the top competitions."

He added: "Clearly we are also about developing our youth players and academy structure, to make sure that our own players come through. That is one of the keys for the future."

Racism worries

Construction work in Dubai
2006 will mark farewell to Dubai as host of Soccerex

Mr Blatter's organisation is at loggerheads with many European clubs - namely those that make up the G-14 grouping of 18 top sides - over who is responsible for player insurance and health care while on international duty.

After high-profile injury cases of players on international duty, the clubs have increasingly said that this responsibility should now become that of the national football associations.

"The release of players to international teams is an honour for players and football clubs," Mr Blatter said.

"(Looking at) the interests of football clubs, and international associations, we will, with good will, be able to find a solution. We are working on that."

Turning to other issues, Mr Blatter said that general problems affecting society, such as racism, were also affecting football and had to be stamped out.

He said political interference in national associations had to be eradicated.

However, he said that governments and their criminal law systems could help tackle the problems of "bribery, corruption and money laundering" in the game.

Big clubs lock horns with Fifa
15 Nov 05 |  Business

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