Blatter tells Michael Burgess that he is working on Oceania gaining direct entry to the World Cup.

You can't deny Fifa president Sepp Blatter has a sense of humour. One of the most powerful - and also controversial - men in world sport last year likened Fifa to Robin Hood. And then compared himself to notorious Bond villain Blofeld.

In an extraordinary speech at the Oxford Union, Blatter mocked the perceptions of the Swiss-based football federation.

"There are those who will tell you that Fifa is just a conspiracy, a scam, accountable to nobody and too powerful for anyone to resist," said Blatter. "They would have you believe that I sit in my office with a sinister grin, gently stroking the chin of an expensive, white Persian cat. You might have been led to believe Fifa is the evil Sheriff of Nottingham of football. But the truth is we have more in common with Robin Hood."

It seems a ridiculous comparison but, in this part of the world, Fifa have some similarities to the famous man in green. The entire region - even New Zealand - relies hugely on Fifa's financial support, with up to 95 per cent of Oceania's funding channelled from Zurich.


And Oceania hope, with Blatter's support, that they can gain access to the World Cup, either with a guaranteed slot (direct entry) or a defined, stable qualifying path. Taking from the rich, giving to the poor.

In an exclusive interview with the Herald on Sunday, Blatter said that Fifa were working on a proposal that would see Oceania granted direct entry to the World Cup.

Oceania have a guaranteed spot at every Fifa tournament except the biggest one. Direct entry was granted in December 2002 but taken away less than a year later. However, Blatter has made numerous statements in recent years that every region should be represented, despite predicted opposition from the more powerful confederations around the world.

So, what are the chances of Oceania gaining direct entry?

"We are working on this," said Blatter. "[However], we cannot anticipate the final outcome of the current ongoing discussion on the qualifying modus for the next World Cup."

Blatter's No 2, general secretary Jerome Valcke, told the Herald on Sunday last year, "if I was Oceania, I would push to have a full slot at the World Cup".

Oceania president David Chung is counting on Blatter's support, hoping his undeniable influence can get the proposal across the line.

"Blatter agrees in principle and verbally he promised he will fight for us," said Chung. "Whether it comes to reality or not is another question but we will see."


If direct entry cannot be achieved, Blatter is also said to back Oceania aligning with Asia for the intercontinental playoffs, which makes geographical and logistical sense.

"Discussions about the final qualifying format for 2018 are still ongoing," said Blatter, when questioned about future alignments. "It's not about my personal view, but about Fifa working closely with the confederations to come up with the best solution for football."

Such decisions will be made by the 24-strong executive committee next March but Blatter's viewpoint counts for a lot.

It's often said he's more powerful than many presidents. He presides over an organisation that will make around US$4.2 billion ($5.8 billion) over this current four-year cycle, gleaning close to US$1.5 billion ($1.93 billion) in sponsorship income alone.

Blatter often travels by private jet and is usually feted like a head of state in countries he visits. Indeed, seeing him move around Brazil during this year's World Cup, surrounded by a phalanx of security guards in dark glasses and escorted by a cavalcade of military and police personnel, it was easy to forget he is just a sports administrator.

Blatter remains intensely unpopular - often for valid reasons - and has been caught up in numerous controversies. But no one can deny football has grown immensely under his stewardship. The sport gets bigger and bigger, with the broadcast figures from the 2014 World Cup expected to smash existing records for a sports event.

When Oceania sides struggle, as Tahiti did at the Confederations Cup last year (left) - Fernando Torres scored four as Spain smashed the Tahitians 10-0 - the confederation's direct entry to Fifa tournaments is questioned. Photo / AP

He has also overseen more of a world focus within Fifa. For many decades, the governing body was dominated by Europe and South America but Blatter has pursued an aggressive programme of support and development in Asia, Africa, North America and Oceania. And Fifa pays. Each of Fifa's 209 member countries were promised a 'bonus' of 450,000 ($578,000) at this year's World Cup, a huge sum for many of the smaller nations. It's part of the reason why Blatter has stayed in power for almost two decades, as he counts on the continued support of the most populous regions.

"We will support Blatter at the next election," Chung confirmed. "Why? Because Oceania has come a long way. When Blatter took over, Oceania had a deficit of $1 million. He has supported us and Oceania has benefited a lot from development programmes - 90 to 95 per cent of our funding comes from Fifa."

For his part, Blatter is proud of Oceania's progress since they became a full confederation (with a seat on Fifa's executive committee) in 1996.

"We've seen some impressive results and milestones over the past 10 years " both in terms of football development and also at the elite level," said Blatter, who has overseen more than US$120 million in Fifa funding for the region since 1999.

"New Zealand and Oceania as a whole can be proud of the All Whites for their results at the 2010 Fifa World Cup where they were the only unbeaten side in the tournament. Their female counterparts, the Football Ferns, have also preformed credibly on the world stage."

Blatter also mentions Tahiti (2013 Confederations Cup), Hekari United (2010 Club World Cup), Vanuatu's futsal prowess and Tahiti reaching the semifinals of the Beach Soccer World Cup last year.

However, the reality is Oceania haven't always shone on the world stage. New Zealand struggled at the 2003 Confederations Cup and have occasionally suffered heavy defeats in age-group tournaments.

The worst was in 1997 when the under-17 team conceded 21 goals without reply, including a record 13-0 loss to Spain.

Last year, Darren Bazeley's under-17 team shipped 11 goals, including a 7-0 defeat to Uruguay, and also failed to score. Tahiti conceded 21 goals at the 2009 Under-20 World Cup and Toa Aito also suffered at the Confederations Cup last year, losing 6-1 to Nigeria, 10-0 to Spain and 8-0 to Uruguay.

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Such occurrences lead to pressure within Fifa circles, especially from Europe and South America, as their national and club teams face a dog fight to qualify for most Fifa tournaments. But Blatter says there will always be a place for Oceania teams.

"The results in Brazil may not have gone [Tahiti's] way but we have to remember that this was [their] first international competition at senior level," he said.

"Football is a global game and we need to give incentives and opportunities to every confederation to ensure continued growth while also trying to maintain the highest possible level of competitiveness at these showpiece events.

"There will be some years when Oceania teams perform well and others when they may not. This can depend on a lot of factors, for instance it can be the climate or environment that suits certain countries or confederations. But it is also crucial teams prepare well [and] it is about supporting the respective Oceania team in their preparations as best we can."

Oceania will be in the spotlight again this week, when Auckland City face another David and Goliath battle at the Club World Cup. But is it ideal to have an amateur team at such a tournament?

"Auckland City have earned the right to represent Oceania at the Fifa Club World Cup [and] this is a team that has plenty of potential," Blatter said. "[Remember] 2009, when they overcame African champions TP Mazembe to finish fifth.

"The level of professionalism around the world differs greatly depending on various factors but we will continue to work closely with our member associations to develop strong, sustainable national leagues no matter what the challenges faced."

Assuming the 78-year-old wins re-election next March, Blatter will attend the 2015 Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand. He has fond memories of this country - even recalling his first visit in 1977 for a football development programme - and is expecting big things next year.

"Fifa has full confidence that New Zealand will put on an incredible event," he said. "Everything is well on track in terms of the preparations and we have a proactive, passionate and hard-working local organising committee.

"We've already seen the country's capabilities with the hosting of the Fifa Under-17 men's and women's tournaments in 1999 and 2008 respectively, not to mention the Rugby World Cup in 2011. I'm sure the New Zealand public will get out and show their support."

What Sepp says
*On the prospect of direct entry to the World Cup for Oceania:
"We are working on this but we cannot anticipate the final outcome of the current ongoing discussion on the qualifying modus for the next Fifa World Cup."

*On the progress of Oceania football:
"We've seen some impressive results and milestones over the past 10 years, both in terms of football development and also at the elite level."

*On Oceania's competitiveness on the world stage:
"There will be some years when Oceania teams perform well and others when they may not. [However], football is a global game and we need to give incentives and opportunities to every confederation to ensure continued growth while also trying to maintain the highest possible level of competitiveness at these showpiece events."

Oceania football and the World Cup
*What is the Oceania Football Confederation?
The OFC was established in 1966 to govern football in the region and was initially made up of four nations -- Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. They have since grown to 11 countries (Australia withdrew in 2006 to join Asia) and gained full confederation status in 1996 to sit alongside the other five confederations. Fifa presently have 209 member nations.

*How do they qualify for Fifa tournaments?
The winners of Oceania's tournaments have direct entry to all Fifa tournaments (women, age-group, futsal, beach and Olympics) except the men's World Cup.

*How are the 32 places for the World Cup decided?
The hosts qualify automatically. Each confederation then has a set number

of allocated spots and a half spot means the lowest qualifier must gain entry through an inter-confederation playoff. Europe have the biggest number with 13 places, followed by Africa (5), South America (4.5), Asia (4.5), North America (3.5) and Oceania (0.5).