Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland were let down by Sepp Blatter, says Kennedy


By Steven Beacom

Former Irish FA President Raymond Kennedy has stated that outgoing Fifa President Sepp Blatter let Northern Ireland football down over the controversial player eligibility row with the Republic of Ireland.

And in a hard hitting interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Kennedy claimed that the sudden departure of Blatter from one of sport's top positions may only be the "tip of the iceberg" with investigations continuing into corruption at world football's governing body.

Kennedy insisted that he was not sorry to see Blatter go on Tuesday, and is still angry at events six years ago after an International Football Association Board AGM, which took place in Newcastle, County Down, with the IFA acting as hosts.

After the meeting, chaired by then IFA President Kennedy, Blatter blindsided local football chiefs when, in a press conference, he declared the FAI could take their pick of players born, bred and developed in Northern Ireland as long as they had an Irish passport, effectively leading to a ruling of the same.

While relations have improved since somewhat between the associations, at that time there was a bitter row going on between the IFA and FAI in relation to which players the latter should be allowed to select.

Blatter came down hard on the side of the FAI, surprising the IFA in the process.

In 2009, Blatter said: "The political situation in Northern Ireland is not unique but due to the fact that there are two political entities, we will propose that any player born in the North can play for the South too, as long as they haven't already played for another national association."

As Blatter was speaking to the media, Kennedy was taking Uefa President Michel Platini to watch a game at Mourneview Park and didn't know anything about what was going on back in Newcastle at the Slieve Donard hotel.

Kennedy said: "I was very disappointed that he did not tell us his views face to face. That day he congratulated the IFA on hosting the meeting, but said very little else at that meeting. He didn't tell us directly that he was going to say what he did at the press conference.

"After our meeting had ended I had to take Michel Platini to Mourneview Park to see a game that afternoon.

"I whisked him off and left the hotel not knowing anything about it. It wasn't until later that night that I found out what had actually been said and that his comments had created such a stir.

"I was not happy at all. In my opinion he was not a friend to Northern Ireland football. I would say he wasn't too friendly to football in England and a few others either. When I heard that he had stepped down I was not disappointed to see him go at all."

Once Blatter had spoken, the IFA were fighting a losing battle. They spoke several times to Blatter and even took their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but to no avail.

Like Blatter, Kennedy is no stranger to controversy. He left the IFA President's role in 2010 having lost the support of the IFA's Executive Board after an independent report was critical of his and then Vice-President David Martin's roles in the sacking of ex-IFA chief executive Howard Wells, which cost the association £500,000 in an unfair dismissal case taken by Wells.

Kennedy firmly believes that the Fifa story, which saw the arrest of seven high ranking officials last week, is only starting.

He said: "I am pleased that something is now being done and investigations have been launched. I think this is only the tip of the iceberg and I feel there will be a lot more coming out in the future.

"As for the next Fifa President, it is a big job and a tough job because the eyes of the world are watching.

"It may be tough for a candidate from Uefa to get voted in. I have been at Conferences were Uefa have routinely put forward different ideas and they are constantly defeated by around 150 to 50 which is effectively the rest of the world v Europe.

"Michel Platini's stance will be intriguing.

"When Sepp was President there was no chance that he would ever be beaten in an election and Platini knew that very well. He may go for it now with Blatter gone."

Kennedy added that he would not be surprised if greater scrutiny was placed on Russia and Qatar's winning bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Belfast Telegraph


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