Jul 3, 2015 9:01 PM

FIFA deflects criticism about absence of Blatter from final

The Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association deflected criticism on Friday about FIFA President Sepp Blatter and secretary general Jerome Valcke not attending the Women's World Cup final, saying the winning captain won't care who hands over the championship trophy.

"That Mr. Blatter and Mr. Valcke are not here, I think that's another topic, but for women's football and the tournament itself I think they deserve the best ever ending of the tournament. ... Who hands the trophy over and who is in presence and what kind of dignitaries we have and what kind of politicians are in the stands, is maybe for the teams playing at that time and the spectators not so important," said Tatjana Haenni, FIFA's head of women's football. "I think it's a good sign for women's football there are so many people interested in the game."

Leaders of both organizations reviewed the tournament two days before the United States faces Japan in the championship match. While both organizations raved about the successes of the event, the absence of Blatter and Valcke because of the FIFA corruption investigation lingered.

It provided a bookend to the tournament that opened in the wake of the initial wave from the FIFA corruption investigation, but has mostly become a secondary story during the tournament, just as organizers had hoped when the event opened a month ago.

"It's the prerogative of the president or anybody in FIFA to go to any competition they want," said Victor Montagliani, president of the CSA. "The choice was made, but I actually think in light of the circumstances the focus needs to be on the two games and the players that are on it, not the suits that run football, like myself or anybody else. I'm happy from that perspective that the focus is on the two teams that are playing in the final and the two teams in the third-place (match)."

The tournament has appeared to be a success, from fans streaming into the stadiums across Canada for matches featuring the home country and the neighboring United States, to the record TV ratings. CSA officials said they had more than 1 million fans attending games and are hoping to sell out Sunday's final at BC Place.

But FIFA officials said the gap needs to close between the countries that have made serious investments in women's soccer and those that are lagging behind, creating imbalance in a tournament that expanded to 24 teams for the first time. Lopsided scores during the group stages of the tournament emphasized that point.

"I think FIFA really tries to work with all associations worldwide to make sure that gap doesn't get too big, the teams that maybe now seem a bit behind to help them close the gap," Haenni said. "Of course it's in our interest to have women's football as balanced as possible."

FIFA also said it after completion of the tournament it would review the use of artificial turf for all six venues. Players have complained about the surfaces being used for the first time. Haenni said there have been a number of officials from different areas watching and collecting data on the games played on turf.

But she was also quick to point out the next Women's World Cup in France in 2019 is slated to be played on all natural grass surfaces.

"I think we have all the different groups in place that will be able to come up with conclusions," Haenni said.

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