Sepp Blatter: Racism matter ‘closed’

Blatter expressed regret last week for the uproar caused by his claim that racial incidents between players on the field could be settled by a handshake at the end of a game.

“I can only say this item for me is closed,” Blatter told a news conference at the Asian Football Confederation’s headquarters in Malaysia on Wednesday. “There is no tolerance (of) racism. I have been interpreted as such and I have made my apologies. I cannot say anything more.”

Blatter was responding to a question about his next move after Neil Warnock, manager of Premier League club Queens Park Rangers, suggested last week that black players around the world boycott their next international matches in a show of protest against Blatter.

“There is no discrimination in my feelings, there is no racism, nothing at all,” Blatter said. “This matter for me is over. We go forward. There is zero tolerance (for) racism, zero tolerance (for) discrimination in all activities in the field of play and outside the field.”

Blatter insisted he was not surprised by the British media’s strong criticism of him and calls for him to stand down as head of soccer’s world governing body, but added that he was “very much hurt by these comments because it touched me in my conscience and my determination to go against racism.”

The 75-year-old Blatter, who was re-elected to a four-year term in June, last week ruled out leaving his post.

FIFA has been caught up in a corruption scandal that resulted in a life ban from soccer for former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam, the former head of the Asian Football Confederation. Blatter was re-elected unopposed after the Qatari was forced to withdraw because of allegations he tried to bribe Caribbean officials to vote for him.

Bin Hammam has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Asked whether he believes the door is closed to bin Hammam’s return, Blatter said it is up to the appeals process.

“We will wait for the outcome of the next step,” Blatter said on his first trip to AFC headquarters since Bin Hammam’s ban.

In his opening remarks at the news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Blatter did not mention bin Hammam by name, but praised the AFC’s current leadership for standing united. The AFC had agreed to follow procedure on filling bin Hammam’s position despite the exiled president wanting the position to remain vacant pending the outcome of the appeal process.

China’s Zhang Jilong, the AFC’s senior vice-president, has stepped in as the interim president. If bin Hammam’s appeals aren’t resolved by May 29, the AFC will be bound by its own laws to elect a new leader.

Also, Blatter declined to take a clear stance on renewed calls from Asia to allow the use of Islamic headscarves for female players. FIFA banned the Islamic scarf in 2007 citing safety concerns.

Blatter said the issue could be handled by the International Football Association Board, which determines the rules of the game.

Leaders and sports officials in Islamic countries have criticized the ban, saying it discourages women from playing soccer. Iran’s team forfeited a 2012 Olympic women’s qualifier against Jordan in June because the players refused to play without the hijabs.

The AFC said in a statement that its women’s committee was seeking a review of the rule in light of new equipment in the marketplace.

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