Blatter focuses on soccer milestones, not scandals

BERLIN -- A beaming Sepp Blatter took the dais at Olympic Stadium to talk about FIFA's love of women's soccer -- and nothing else -- at the Women's World Cup 2011 opening press conference Saturday .

The FIFA President spoke with enthusiasm on "Frauenfussball" and reveled in the furious din of clicking cameras as he handed a game ball to Steffi Jones, president of the organizing committee and a former Germany player herself. The photographers, one carrying a zoom lens usually reserved for taking pictures of distant skiers, eagerly snapped away.

"The future of football is feminine," said Blatter, emphasizing his long-held prediction with an abrupt switch to English. Most of the conference had been in German, translated by the United Nations–style headsets available to the few who had been told about their existence.

Most of the questions elicited a few more comments on "Frauenfussball" and some dollar figures. But one reporter changed the tone slightly when he asked if the recent Playboy pictorial featuring female soccer players was a sign of "progress," given Blatter's infamous suggestion years ago that women's uniforms should go shorter and tighter to show off more of players' bodies.

While a laughing Jones nudged Blatter, FIFA press officer Ségolène Valentin offered Blatter a way out of the question, saying others on the dais had answered it. Yet Blatter opted to answer in English.

"This is a question going around now about 20 years," Blatter said. "Let the women play the game. And let them play in the most attractive manner when they use their personal and genetic qualities (such as dancing). It's not so important how they are dressed."

Blatter did choose to pass on another question from a CBC reporter about reports that Nigeria has removed lesbian players from its player pool. The FIFA president said he had not heard of such reports.

Tatjana Haenni, head of FIFA women's competitions, said she had heard the reports but had not confirmed them. Perhaps with Nigeria now in the country, Haenni said, she could follow up and ask if the reports were true.

Nigeria plays France in the tournament's first game Sunday in Sinsheim.

Valentin reminded reporters midway through the 30-minute press conference to keep questions to the subject of women's football. So when Valentin called for one last question, the chosen English-speaking reporter cautiously began with a disclaimer:

"This question is directly related to the Women's World Cup …"

He addressed his question to Worawi Makudi, the FIFA executive committee member from Thailand who had been accused of seeking bribes for his vote in the race to host the 2018 World Cup.

The reporter referenced other tournaments and started to ask, "Have you ever …," when Valentin quickly jumped in to announce that the press conference was over.

Blatter, along with FIFA vice presidents Michel Platini and Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, will be attending Sunday's opening ceremony and Germany-Canada match in the Olympic Stadium.