TOKYO (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Saturday that he had “regrets” following a scandal-tainted year in which football’s governing body lurched from one crisis to another.
Blatter again defended the decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar but said announcing the choices at the same time may have been a mistake.
“This is a justified question after a year of ups and downs,” Blatter told reporters after a FIFA executive committee meeting in Tokyo on the sidelines of the Club World Cup.
“It was not the best and most intelligent decision of FIFA to announce the two World Cup simultaneously,” said the 75-year-old on the eve of Barcelona’s final with Santos in Yokohama.
“It was wrong and it caused a lot of disturbances earlier this year,” he added of the controversy and subsequent blaze of corruption revelations triggered by the choices.
“The past is past and we have to look forward. The boat is still not in still waters but we are bringing it back to port.
“Regrets, yes. But you can’t live in regret. You can have regrets but you can’t go back and change the past,
“You must have have a positive approach and I have the energy to go forward and bring back the credibility of FIFA and take care of public opinion.”
Blatter, re-elected for a fourth term in June unopposed after then Asian football chief Mohamed Bin Hammam was booted out of FIFA in a cash-for-votes scandal, has his work cut out.
The Swiss provoked negative headlines last month by saying any incidents of racist abuse on the pitch should be settled with a handshake after the game.
Blatter said his comments had been misunderstood and rejected widespread calls for him to resign.
Having launched new anti-corruption measures in October, Blatter again defended the choice of surprise winners Qatar for the 2022 World Cup against outside criticism.
“The 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar and I don’t know who can change this decision,” said Blatter, responding to remarks made by new Australia soccer boss Frank Lowy.
“I personally will intervene if FIFA executive members continue with such declarations (accusations). I understand about the incident in Australia but the case is closed now.”
He added: “The World Cup shall be accessible to all cultures and it was time ... to bring it to the Arab world.”
Lowy was quoted last month as saying the tiny Gulf state, whose bid was dogged by corruption allegations, could still be stripped of the 2022 finals.
Qatar’s bid leaders strongly denied any wrong-doing but emotions still run high as the beleaguered FIFA president did his best fire-fighting job.
“Our reforms are on the right track,” said Blatter, coming up for air briefly to announce Morocco would host the 2013 and 2014 Club World Cup tournaments.
“FIFA will respond to public opinion.”
Blatter’s pledge to re-open the case into the collapse of former marketing partner ISL has also been stalled after being tied up in a Swiss appeals court.
“The court has not made a decision on opening the file,” Blatter said. “We want to open it as soon as possible and forget about the past. FIFA needs to lay this ISL issue to rest.”
ISL went bankrupt in 2001 and BBC’s Panorama program reported last year that documents showed senior FIFA officials were paid kickbacks for granting ISL lucrative World Cup television and sponsorship rights in the 1990s.
The program named them as executive committee members Ricardo Teixeira, Issa Hayatou and Nicolas Leoz, all of whom denied the claims.
Blatter offered his backing to Hayatou, head of the Confederation of African Football, and expressed confidence in Brazil’s ability to host a successful 2014 World Cup.
The future of Teixeira, president of the Brazilian Football Confederation and 2014 World Cup organising committee, appeared less secure, however.
“Mr Teixeria has asked for leave until the end of January,” said Blatter, who plans to meet Brazil’s head of state to speed up the country’s lagging preparations for 2014.
“Until then he is out of FIFA, out of the organising committee. At the end of January we will come back to that.”
Editing by Patrick Johnston