Sepp Blatter was always a gentleman to me, says Jim Boyce
Jim Boyce has declared that controversial figure Sepp Blatter was right to step down as Fifa President, insisting that the stunning decision will be good for the future of football, which currently finds itself at the centre of a corruption scandal.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, respected Northern Ireland man Boyce, who is leaving his own post of Fifa Vice-President in different circumstances, gave his views on Blatter’s departure, his relationship with one of sport’s contentious officials and what’s next for Fifa.
Unlike the rest of the football world, Boyce said Blatter’s decision to leave the top post in football’s governing body did not come as a shock to him, given recent criticism of the Swiss.
Yesterday’s announcement by Blatter followed the 79-year-old comfortably winning last Friday’s vote at Fifa’s Congress to continue as President for a FIFTH term, and this even though seven high ranking Fifa officials had been arrested as part of a US prosecution just two days before.
Boyce said: “In view of the adverse publicity generated since his re-election, I’m not surprised at this development. I think he has made the right decision.
“I also believe it is in the best interests of Fifa.”
Blatter's reputation has taken a battering over the years, but the ongoing investigations by the FBI and Swiss authorities have upped the ante even more.
As he suggested in his leaving speech, Blatter may have a mandate from the membership of Fifa, but he does not have one from "the fans, the players, the clubs, the people who live, breathe and love football as much as we all do at Fifa."
On the investigations into Fifa and the allegations of corruption surrounding the organisation, Boyce said: "I am pleased that the FBI and Swiss authorities are undertaking these investigations and if anybody is shown to be corrupt or dishonest they should be dealt with in the strongest possible manner.
"I'm going to be open and honest and in my view there are people at Fifa who should never have been there. Once problems were found with these people, I feel they should have been removed a lot quicker.
"I think Sepp Blatter should have acted much more stronger than he did against these individuals. People say that Sepp Blatter turned a blind eye to what some other Fifa members were up to and perhaps that is the reason why he has taken so much flak because if you are the head of an organisation you are the one that has to answer to criticism.
"Having said that, there are a lot of good people at Fifa.
"In my opinion, Fifa do a tremendous amount of good work and provide money to many under privileged countries and without that help they would never be able to develop the game. Also, 75% of the revenue generated by Fifa is distributed to many of these countries and Fifa is often the first organisation, when there are disasters in under privileged countries, to contribute vast amounts of money to help those countries re-build their infrastructure."
Boyce has known Blatter for over 20 years, and while other football officials in the UK could not hide their glee at Blatter's departure, the former IFA President took a different approach.
Speaking about his relationship with Blatter, Boyce, who was on Fifa's Disciplinary Committee for a decade before becoming Vice-President for the last four years, revealed: "I do like Sepp Blatter and have always found him to be a gentleman.
"My first meeting with him was in 1994 in Zurich and I have never had a problem with him. He treated me with respect."
Boyce added, though, that he felt Blatter should not have gone forward for election as President for a fourth term, let alone a fifth as he did last week.
He stated: "I feel 12 years should be the maximum and I also believe there should be an age limit, but last year at the Fifa Congress this was put to the 209 Associations and it was overwhelmingly rejected and at the end of the day it is a democracy and we had to accept it."
On the future Fifa President, Boyce admitted he did not know who it would be, commenting: "Whoever takes over must drive the organisation forward with openness and transparency and I do wish his successor every success."
Boyce would have been a popular replacement had he not left Fifa's Executive Committee on Friday. Once news broke about Blatter, there were suggestions from Northern Ireland fans that the ex-Cliftonville chairman could step into the breach.
He said: "It was an honour to have been Fifa Vice-President, but I feel I'm right to take a break and won't go back on that."