• Blatter: Stop treating fans as prisoners and animals - [Sports news]

    2009-06-07 | Tag:Soccer

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    NASSAU, Bahamas: Seeking ways to lessen the chance of further fan fatalities, FIFA president Sepp Blatter urged nations to avoid treating fans like "prisoners and wild animals" by using fences to contain them in cramped stadiums.

    "This must happen," Blatter said on Wednesday.

    Blatter made the emotional plea at FIFA's annual Congress, where several issues were discussed by soccer's worldwide governing body but no votes held to decide two significant items on the agenda - the plan to restrict clubs to a maximum of five foreign players in starting lineups and a notion to lower the maximum age for the Olympic men's tournament from 23 to 21.

    Instead, most of the discussion centered on things that FIFA would like to see happen down the line - improved fan and player security among them.

    FIFA said nine fans were killed on June 1, 2008, at a World Cup qualifier in Liberia when a metal barrier gave way in an overcrowded stadium, and as many as 22 others died in a stampede shortly before another qualifier between Ivory Coast and Malawi on March 29.

    Since 1964, more than 1,300 fans have died in crushes at overcrowded stadiums during international matches worldwide.

    "We have to go to the roots," Blatter said. "We have to go to the causes of some of the tragedies or accidents that happen."

    Blatter, who ordered investigations into those incidents, said he remains saddened by both tragedies - adding that he believes they would be avoided if fencing wasn't used or if stadium officials simply turned people away once the venue reached capacity.

    In March at the Ivory Coast match, thousands of fans were pushing their way into the stadium, causing not only the deaths but also hundreds of injuries.

    "People are not yet in the stadium, the match is starting or is trying to start, there is a lot of noise around and then people like to press," Blatter said. "Ladies and gentlemen, fences in the stadium are not adequate for (football). Who are behind fences? Prisoners and wild animals. Are fans in these two categories?"

    In South Africa, organizers of the next World Cup have pledged that the problems that can lead to stadium stampedes in Africa won't be an issue during the continent's first World Cup next week.

    Other developments

    FIFA will continue exploring a plan that would restrict clubs to a maximum of five foreign players in starting lineups, but stopped short for the second straight year of calling for a definitive vote. The "6+5" rule has raised the ire of the European Union, because it believes the policy would violate discrimination laws. Blatter, who again cited a FIFA-backed study that suggested the move would be legal, told the Congress he would like to see the plan voted upon at next year's meeting in South Africa.

    Instead of taking a vote on the change to the men's Olympic age standard, a task force is being planned to further investigate the idea. Under existing rules, the Olympics are open to players under 23 but teams are also able field three older players. FIFA's executive committee backed a plan this year to reduce the age cap.

    By a vote of 188-5, the Congress approved a change to FIFA rules about avoiding outside or governmental intervention with national federations, adding the phrase "Each Member shall manage its affairs independently and with no influence from third parties" to the group's statutes. Any nation found in violation now would face sanctions, even if it did not seek the outside influence. A new rule was also added, saying that FIFA's executive committee members - which now include Russia's Vitaly Mutko, who has been his country's sports minister under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - may be reappointed or relieved of duties at any time.

    Players who hold dual nationality now may - at any age - declare which federation they want eligibility for. The measure, brought to the floor by the Algerian federation, passed 112-82. Previously, players had to declare which nation they would play for before turning 21.

    All but three of FIFA's 208 national federations were represented, with Angola, Lebanon and Yemen absent.

    AP

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