FIFA president Sepp Blatter has changed his mind over the participation of a local team at the Club World Championship in a bid to boost ticket sales after this year’s fan turnout was badly affected by the absence of a Japanese side.
“We have the six champions of the six continents, and in Asia the champion came from Saudi Arabia so for next year, if the Asian champion is still from Western Asia, what shall we do in order to have a local team in the competition?,” Blatter said at a press conference on Friday.
“No decision has been taken, but we shall look at it very positively, because we think it is correct that the host country should have a representation.”
Al Ittihad is the Asian representative at this year’s tournament after winning the Champions League in July. Yokohama F. Marinos and Jubilo Iwata both suffered early exits from the competition.
Next year’s Club World Championship will again be in Japan, from Dec. 10-17. The future after that is less clear, although FIFA is pinning its hopes on it turning into a prestigious annual event.
Blatter was adamant prior to this year’s tournament FIFA would not change the format to include a host nation club.
“A Japanese team has a very good chance of competing, but when they are Asian champions,” Blatter said last Sunday.
“I know (Japan Football Association president Saburo) Kawabuchi is not happy a Japan team has not qualified,” Blatter continued, “but this competition must have six champions — this is the important point.”
Blatter’s U-turn came amid concerns over poor ticket sales at all matches prior to the final. The tournament opener between Al Ittihad and Al Ahly barely half-filled the 55,000-seater National Stadium in Tokyo, with Liverpool’s semifinal win over Deportivo Saprissa on Thursday watched by under 44,000 at the 72,000-seater International Stadium Yokohama.
“Captain” Kawabuchi on Friday expressed disappointment over the Japanese public’s lack of interest.
“Ticket sales have not been as high as we had all expected. Success of this championship is the most important thing. It has not been as satisfactory as we had expected,” Kawabuchi said.
“I don’t want to give excuses, but we can learn from this and make improvements for next year.”
Kawabuchi was as quick as a flash when asked how many extra spectators Japan legend Kazuyoshi Miura could take credit for because of his appearance for Sydney FC against Deportivo Saprissa, watched by 28,538.
“Ten thousand,” he said.
Liverpool meets Sao Paulo in the final Sunday, which will be broadcast to 179 countries with a television audience that could touch 800 million, according to FIFA.
But Blatter was still unsure whether the matchup would fill out International Stadium Yokohama.
“We expect the final to be sold out, but it is not easy because there is no local team,” he said.
FIFA staged the inaugural Club World Championship in Brazil in 2000, but the tournament was put on the back burner after marketing partner ISMM/ISL went bankrupt.
Clubs juggling busy playing schedules and the ISMM/ISL debacle saw a four-year return to the Toyota Cup, a one-off match between the South and European Champions.
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