Blatter banking on India

AP

While acknowledging India's passion for cricket and tennis, the FIFA president believes that the nation could play a big role in enriching football, writes S. R. Suryanarayan.

Joseph `Sepp' Blatter (in pic) is easily the most powerful and influential sports administrator in the world. Presiding over football federations of 207 countries, the FIFA president indeed has a special stature. And in keeping with that is the impressive and imposing structure in Zurich that houses the FIFA headquarters.

The approach to the brand new building, wonderfully landscaped, has a row of long tiled steps, all well polished, and decked with flower plants on either side. On each step is inscribed the name of a member country (India also figures here). This being the spring season, the flowers, purple, red, white and yellow, are in full bloom to give the place an enchanting look.

It is in May, when FIFA's annual congress is held, that the FIFA house is formally inaugurated.

Blatter is a short, simple man, with playful eyes and a disarming smile. Speaking to a group of Indian journalists, including the TV crew from Zee Sports, the FIFA president dwelt on his love for football, the sport in India and the major role played by football in social development.

In a way Blatter is the one responsible for opening the world of football to Africa and America, and Asia too. And deep within him he yearns to see countries like China and India spearhead the cause of football which, according to him, is not only a simple game of "kicking the ball" but also a sport that kindled the hopes of the have-nots in various parts of the world.

"Football is a school of life," he says. It is clear that this would be the driving principle of FIFA during his next term as its president.

Blatter firmly believes that clubs have a major role to play in the development of football. In this regard, he stressed on the role of professional leagues and the need to ensure that the players are not overplayed.

Coming to India after 25 years (Blatter visited Chennai and Bangalore in the 1970s as FIFA's development officer. He also came to India with his predecessor Joao Havalange for the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi), the FIFA chief had a lot of expectations. "When I met the speaker of the Indian parliament, Somnath Chatterjee, during the World Cup in Berlin, he invited me to see for myself the 50 million football talent in India. I thought that was more than an invitation," said Blatter.

He acknowledged India's special bond with cricket, the passion for tennis ("you had one of the world's best doubles pair," he said referring to Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes) and hockey.

But he said football has a special universal appeal. The game, according to him, is like a classic theatre on television and brings in a mix of human skills and emotions on the field. It is Blatter's belief that India could enrich the sport. He was particularly keen that women's football should grow.

"Remember it was an Indian girl who had done a key role in the movie `Bend It Like Beckham'. I am sure it will not end there with all the richness that Indians have in the field of dance and fine arts, the essence of which can be seen in football. I always say the future of football is feminine."

Blatter has another wish. "I will be happy to have done something for India if the Indian football turns the corner during my tenure as FIFA president."