Blatter: Soccer is a victim of own popularity

FIFA president Sepp Blatter says soccer has become a victim of

its own popularity after a series of match-fixing scandals in the

past year.

Speaking after attending the Confederation of African Football’s

general assembly, the soccer’s head suggested the problem was

becoming an increasingly widespread worry for FIFA.

”Not a regional phenomenon. This has to be stopped,” Blatter

said. ”We will talk about it at our FIFA Congress.”

Blatter said the head of the international police organization

Interpol will attend the congress in May at Budapest, Hungary.

Earlier this week, the South African Football Association

convinced FIFA to give priority to investigating allegations that

international matches in the country leading up to the 2010 World

Cup were fixed.

Africa’s reputation has been damaged by a scandal in neighboring

Zimbabwe, where more than 80 players have been suspended for

alleged involvement in match-fixing. The Zimbabwe Football

Association’s former chief executive is facing corruption charges

and is accused of masterminding the fixing of games involving the

national team, where Zimbabwean players and officials are accused

of being paid to lose.

But despite the sport’s tarnished image, with Blatter’s own

organization involved in a string of corruption scandals, the FIFA

president insisted ”football is faring well.” Blatter pointed out

FIFA had more members than the United Nations, adding ”and I am

still here.”

Blatter was in Gabon to attend the annual CAF meeting and the

African Cup of Nations final between Ivory Coast and Zambia on

Sunday.

CAF president Issa Hayatou praised co-hosts Gabon and Equatorial

for their organization of Africa’s top tournament and says the

continental body is ”satisfied.”

Hayatou shrugged off concerns over near-deserted stadiums for

some matches not involving the co-hosts. The quarterfinal between

Zambia and Sudan was particularly embarrassing with only a handful

of fans turning up at the 37,000-seat Estadio de Bata in Bata,

Equatorial Guinea.

Organizers gave away free tickets for the semifinals, but with

both co-hosts already eliminated the stadiums were still only half

full at best.

”We would like the stadiums to be full but we do not have any

power to get people out of their homes,” Hayatou said.

Hayatou also responded to criticism that Africa’s confederation

had done little to help the victims of the Port Said stadium riot

in Egypt in which more than 70 people died.

”Do you think a tragedy like that can leave us indifferent?”

Hayatou said.

Blatter reiterated that FIFA had requested a report from the

Egyptian Football Association following the disaster in which

people were stabbed and crushed to death when fans rushed onto the

field following a league game.