© Getty Images
The FIFA president Sepp Blatter was touring Sri Lanka © Getty Images (Representational photo)

Colombo: Dec 3, 2014

FIFA boss Sepp Blatter today vowed to make football Sri Lanka‘s most popular game by overtaking cricket in line with an emerging trend in the giant neighbour India. The visiting world football chief told reporters in Colombo that he saw no reason why football could not be the number one game in Sri Lanka, where the national cricket players are treated as demigods.

“Football is a more inclusive sport, relatively cheaper to play, and does not take a long duration,” he said after visiting the island’s former war zone of Jaffna to open a football stadium. “I urge all of you to take to football and look forward to the day when Sri Lanka competes internationally.”

He also said football was increasingly becoming more popular in neighbouring India where FIFA will hold the Under-17 world cup in 2017 with the participation of 24 teams playing 52 matches. “They [India] just started a professional league with former players, good players, but the right promotion will come in 2017,” Blatter said. “It will be the first boom in a big cricket country.”

Blatter said he was keen to help Sri Lanka — which this week marked 75 years since the founding of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka — to improve the game and make the sport the most popular in the island of 20 million people. “I am not satisfied with the development of the [football] game,” he said adding that the local governing body of the sport needed to put in more effort to attract young players.

Blatter held talks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse during his brief one-day visit and discussed the improvements necessary. “The President requested assistance from FIFA to bring down internationally-acclaimed players to Sri Lanka and to help Sri Lankan players obtain experience abroad,” President Rajapakse’s office said in a statement.

Officials said FIFA had spent over 11.5 million dollars on improving football in the island in recent years. Blatter said FIFA member countries received a 250,000 bonus after the World Cup and he hoped to pay another 500,000 to each member in January. However, he declined to answer questions on whether FIFA will publish the full report written by a former US prosecutor Michael Garcia into alleged corruption. “I can’t give any answer because it is against [the] ethic of FIFA,” he added.