|Blatter said he ‘couldn’t envisage such a reaction’ to his remarks on racism in football [Reuters]|
FIFA president Sepp Blatter apologised for his “unfortunate comments” on racism in the game but rejected calls to resign as head of world football’s governing body.
In an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Blatter appeared to suggest that racial discrimination on the pitch could be settled with a handshake and that racism was not a problem in the game.
“It hurts and I am still hurting because I couldn’t envisage such a reaction,” Blatter told the BBC in an interview on Friday, admitting he had used “unfortunate words” which he “deeply regretted”.
“When you have done something which was not totally correct, I can only say I am sorry for all those people affected by my declarations.”
When asked about calls from Hugh Robertson, Britain’s sports minister, and others that he should resign over his remarks suggesting that disputes on the pitch involving racist abuse should be resolved by a handshake, he refused.
“I cannot resign. Why should I?” he told the BBC.
“When you are faced with a problem you have to face the problem. To leave would be totally unfair and not compatible with my fighting spirit, my character, my energy.”
Blatter insisted however that he had a “zero tolerance” attitude towards racism in the game, and that any players found guilty of it on the pitch should be thrown out of the game.
British Prime Minister David Cameron also called the comments “appalling” and the head of England’s Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor, said Blatter should quit.
Blatter’s initial comments came after Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez was charged by the English Football Association for allegedly racially abusing Manchester United’s French international defender Patrice Evra.
England captain John Terry is also facing a police and FA investigation over allegations he hurled racist abuse at Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.
Blatter’s remarks have sparked a storm in England, where he was already unpopular for the way in which he and FIFA dealt with the country’s failed bid to stage the 2018 World Cup.
Players also criticised him, with former England captain David Beckham adding to the condemnation on Thursday, although he stopped short of calling for Blatter to resign.
“I think the comments were appalling. I think a lot of people have said that,” Beckham said at a press conference to preview his Los Angeles Galaxy’s clash with the Houston Dynamo on Sunday for the Major League Soccer Cup.
“I don’t think the comments were very good for this game,” he added.
Manchester United defender and former England captain Rio Ferdinand was one of the first players to criticise Blatter, eventually engaging in a war of words on Twitter with the FIFA chief.