Blatter urges Asia to seek more World Cup places
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter urged Asian football authorities on Friday to push for more World Cup berths at the expense of Europe and South America, an issue which could help his own re-election prospects.
Blatter said ''we have to have a better balance'' because the two most powerful continents could provide 19 of the 32 teams in Brazil next year.
''You are a powerhouse, you must be aware of your powerhouse,'' the FIFA leader told the 46 Asian Football Confederation member delegations at their annual meeting.
Asian teams compete for just four guaranteed World Cup berths, with a fifth available in an intercontinental playoff. For the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the playoff will be against a South American team.
Blatter said reorganizing the ''geopolitical and democratic side'' of FIFA - likely increasing the share for developing regions - should be the final phase of his reform program until 2015, when the next FIFA election is scheduled. He recently backed away from a 2011 promise that this would be his last term.
''This will be the last term, not of office, but the last term of reform, therefore in 2015 we shall have finished our reform,'' Blatter said of a program launched after a series of corruption scandals implicated members of his ruling executive committee.
Blatter's proposal to increase Asia's World Cup representation at the expense of Europe should broaden his voting bloc against UEFA President Michel Platini, who is expected to run for the FIFA presidency.
''Perhaps we should not change a lot but we have the right, and you have the right, and I have the obligation and the responsibility to bring this matter to discussion,'' Blatter said.
The next deadline for FIFA's executive committee to agree on new allocations between continents would probably be its meeting in March 2015 - several months ahead of the scheduled start of qualifying matches for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
Newly elected AFC President Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain said a fifth guaranteed place for Asia would be difficult to negotiate.
''It will be good for us and other confederations as well but we have to be realistic,'' he said in an interview.
Since the World Cup was expanded to 32 teams for the 1998 tournament in France, the knockout stages have been dominated by European and South American teams. The two continents represent 63 of FIFA's current 209 members.
''There is no chance to kick them out before one of them is in the semifinals,'' Blatter told the Asian group.
In the 32-team era, South Korea is the only team outside Europe and South America to reach the semifinals - when it co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with Japan.
No team from Asia or the 35-nation CONCACAF region, which includes Mexico and the United States, has reached the quarterfinals at the past two World Cups.
Still, those confederations have succeeded at the 2012 London Olympics and FIFA youth tournaments, Blatter noted.
The Olympic gold medals in London were won by Mexico's men and the U.S. women. South Korea won the men's bronze and Japan took silver in the women's tournament.
''That means if you have the same number of participants from all continents that there is a balance of strength and a balance of forces,'' Blatter said, drawing applause from delegates.
Blatter also noted that half of FIFA's revenue - which totals more than $1 billion a year - comes from Asian broadcasters and sponsors. World Cup backers include Sony and Hyundai.
The Americas provides 30 percent and ''Europe is left with less than 20 percent,'' Blatter said.
Platini was not present to hear Blatter's speech, having left Kuala Lumpur late Thursday following a gala dinner hosted by the AFC.
Blatter concluded by asking Asian delegates to bring suggestions to the FIFA agenda.
''Play your power but play it well in solidarity with the others,'' he said.