Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Blatter says ‘sorry’ over FAI treatment

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 yesterday 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.”

The Republic’s chiefs had earlier yesterday 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 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.”

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

Blatter, meanwhile, said that Thierry Henry’s handball was “blatant unfair playing” after FIFA announced they will refer the incident to their disciplinary committee and the French star could miss the start of next summer's World Cup finals.

Blatter said: “The disciplinary will open a case on the behaviour of the player Thierry Henry.”

Asked why FIFA were making a special case of Henry, he added: “This is a matter of the disciplinary committee and it's not a question of this player or another - it was a blatant unfair playing and was shown all around the world, but I don't know what the outcome will be.”

Blatter insisted there was no certainty Henry would be banned.

He said: “I have not said that Thierry Henry will be punished, I have said that Thierry Henry will be examined by the disciplinary committee of FIFA.”

Blatter said players should realise that the eyes of the world will be on them next summer.

“I appeal to all the players and coaches to observe this fair play. In 2010 we want to prove that football is more than just kicking a ball”

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