“I never Google my Name”

He reads newspapers in print, he prefers to watch soccer matches on Swiss TV; he doesn't want to google his own name; he has more than 100 requests for interviews pending at any given time. FIFA president Sepp Blatter on his relationship with the media and why he irritates the people sitting next to him in the stadium.

Interview*: Peter Hossli

sepp_blatterMr. Blatter, how do you stay informed?
Sepp Blatter: When I get up at 6 o’clock I listen to the news on Swiss Radio, in German and in French. In addition, I read the newspaper every day. Even in Zurich I get my favorite paper, the «Walliser Bote» from my home canton Valais.

Do you prefer watching TV or reading?
I enjoy both.

Do you read in print or digitally?
I prefer the traditional method, on paper.

iPhone or Blackberry? I own a Sony smartphone.

How do you protect your digital privacy?
I have protected everything with passwords and I never work in a public space.

How often do you google your own name?

How do you deal with the fact that people contact you 24/7 as you’re the president of an international organization?
I take time out. I spend a lot of time on airplanes. During flights I unwind; no cell phone, no computer, nothing. I deliberately refrain from working on planes.

Which newspaper has the best soccer coverage?
Internationally, «L’Equipe». In my home country, Switzerland, it is the sports section of «Blick».

What do you particularly like to read in a newspaper, apart from the sports section?
World news, particularly politics.

How many requests for interviews do you get every week?
I don’t know. There are some 100 to 120 requests for interviews on my shortlist. I keep dealing with them in batches without ever coming to an end.

How do you choose your interview partners?
It depends. The key questions are: in which country, what part of the world would an interview make sense now? What is the core message? Who is the target audience? Which medium is the best way to reach that audience? This is decided in joint consultation with our communications department. But I have to admit; my choices are not always consistent.

What are the questions you don’t like to hear?
Questions I’ve answered a thousand times in various newspapers all over the world but which are asked nevertheless, as if the journalist had just had an epiphany.

What are the topics you could talk about for hours?
Soccer. Politics.

How do you react when your personal life is discussed in the media?
I have grown used to it and have gotten quite thick-skinned over the course of time.

How many countries will broadcast how many hours of the Soccer World Cup?
Four years ago, 3.2 billion people would watch a World Cup match in their homes. This corresponds to 46 percent of the world population. All 64 World Cup matches together were watched by a total of 50 billion people. The World Cup matches in Brazil will be broadcast live in more than 200 countries.

How many journalists will be accredited at the World Cup?
There will be about 5,000 print journalists and photographers as well as some 13,000 representatives from radio and TV channels.

What is soccer? Show business? Or is it a news event?
More than that. Emotions. Hope. Everything.

Which channel do you prefer for watching a soccer match?
When I’m at home, Swiss Television.

Which sport is broadcast in the most attractive way on TV?
Apart from soccer matches, downhill ski races. They are covered in a spectacular way on TV. That is quite impressive.

How could a soccer match be broadcast more attractively?
The picture quality keeps getting better. We will be transmitting the World Cup matches in Brazil in Ultra-HD format with 4K resolution.

Do you prefer watching soccer on TV or in the stadium?
One advantage of TV is slow-motion replay. In every other sense I prefer the game live. When I’m in the stadium I literally kick synchronously with the players. This can upset the people sitting next to me. It’s instinctive; when my leg suddenly jerks forward the very instant that the player on the field is about to score a goal. The atmosphere in the stadium is fantastic.

Soccer cannot exist without its audience. Which media do you use to stay in touch with the
The best way is my weekly column in «The FIFA Weekly». On Twitter I have some 500,000 followers. But I also stay in touch through the interviews I give. I would much prefer to have direct contact with the fans. Wherever I travel I take the time to talk to people in the streets, at the stadium, at the hotel. I’m not equally popular in every country, but everybody wants to talk to me anyway. My biggest fan mail community is in Germany. Go figure!

You have been President of FIFA since 1998. How has journalism changed in the meantime?
The Internet is the second biggest media revolution since the invention of the printing press 500 years ago. Nothing is the same as before. However, one basic fact hasn’t changed: It takes smart minds to produce good journalism.

What is good sports journalism?
The editor-in-chief of «Die Zeit» once said nowadays it took courage not to run with the pack. I have to agree. Many things are just copied today, because the mainstream dictates them. Sports journalists are no less susceptible to intellectual copying and pasting than other journalists.

What does good journalism need?
Smart minds! Gathering facts instead of rehashing opinions. Seeing what a person, an institution, a party, or whatever is like for yourself. All of that takes a lot of work. Good journalism also means a lot of suffering and hard work. An author once said: Easy reading requires damn hard writing.

How many people work in your media department?
Thirteen, three of whom are working at a temporary World Cup office in Brazil. Our media department takes care of the media infrastructure as well as traditional media activities such as daily contact with the press. Media is one of five departments in our communications division, which employs a staff of 60 at the Home of FIFA and a few dozen freelance workers in the most relevant regions of the world.

The Internet has changed many areas of business over the past twenty years. How has it changed FIFA?
Insofar as we have adapted to the new circumstances, especially in terms of communication. One of the five departments I just mentioned is Digital, the biggest department within Communications. It is the place that fuels our website fifa.com as well as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We are present in all social media. We recently introduced an app and launched a weekly magazine, «The FIFA Weekly», which was conceived as an e-paper and is printed only as a limited edition of 2,500 copies, albeit in four languages. In addition, we produce our own audiovisual features.

The broadcast rights for soccer matches are FIFA’s most precious asset. Meanwhile pirates put the matches online. How does FIFA protect itself against that?
Our TV department works with service providers who keep tabs on every platform worldwide, and the rights holders also make sure that their rights are protected.

One last question: Who is your favorite soccer journalist?
For his protection – and for my own – I shall keep his name a secret.

*This interview was conducted in writing.

Sepp Blatter was born on March 10, 1936, in the Swiss Canton of Valais. He has been serving as the World Soccer Association FIFA’s President since 1998. His fourth term will end in June 2015. Blatter studied business and economics and has been working for FIFA since 1975. Previously he had worked for various organizations and even been a journalist himself.