Blatter reassures doubters that 'Qatar will change by World Cup'

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Sepp Blatter is confident that social and religious barriers can be overcome despite fears being raised over the staging of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The Fifa president, who was speaking in Johannesburg at a post-2010 World Cup legacy project launch, has come in for criticism in recent weeks following a decision by the world governing body to take the competition to the Middle East for the first time.

Apart from the searing temperatures expected during the finals months of June and July, there could also be other problems with hosting the competition in an Islamic country.

Current laws there mean that drinking alcohol in public is forbidden, while bars and nightclubs are almost non-existent. Another issue could be expressing affection in public, with gay groups fearing problems in a country where homosexuality is illegal. When asked about such issues, Blatter initially joked by saying: "I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities."

He continued on a more serious note, saying: "We are definitely living in a world of freedom and I'm sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar in 2022, there will be no problems.

"You see in the Middle East the opening of this culture, it's another culture because it's another religion, but in football we have no boundaries.

"We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings be it on this side or that side, be it left, right or whatever."

Blatter added: "If they want to watch a match somewhere in Qatar 2022, I'm sure they will be admitted to such matches."

He feels there is still plenty of time between now and then to sort out any problems that may arise and appealed for calm, adding: "I think there is too much concern for a competition that will be done only in 12 years.

"But this gives me the opportunity to say that in Fifa, and this is in the statutes of Fifa, whether it is in politics, whether it is in religion, we don't want racism, and we know what this means, and neither do we want discrimination.

"What we want is just to open this game to everybody and open it to all cultures, and this is what we are doing in 2022."

The Fifa president insisted that money played no role in taking Fifa's showpiece event to new countries, with Russia hosting the event for the first time in 2018 after beating England, Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium in the 2 December vote.

"This is development of football and don't speak about money," he said. "This has nothing to do with money, as it had nothing to [do with it] with Africa.

"It is the development of the game. We have to take [it] to places where it can improve and have a social and cultural impact. And it's what we did here in Africa."

Blatter was in the company of the South African president Jacob Zuma at Soccer City, the venue where the World Cup final was held, and praised the efforts of the 2010 hosts, saying he hoped that future host countries would take lessons from this year's finals.

He said: "Africa has shown to the world of football, and in this case our executive committee, where we shall go with the World Cup. We shall go to new territories. We started with Asia in 2002 but then we came to Africa and you know how difficult it was to come here. We had to [use] a rotation system or otherwise it would never have been here.

"And now where we go, in 2014 we are in Brazil – but it's not so easy to go to Brazil as well. After that we're going to eastern Europe, to Russia, where the World Cup has never been, and later on we go to the Middle East. We go to the Arab world, the Islamic world."

And he added: "We trusted South Africa and when you trust people, they get confidence. This is what we did with the African people. They organised this World Cup, everyone together, and you saw the result. Africa is everywhere now."

President Zuma said: "We achieved our goals with regard to the successful hosting of the Fifa World Cup event. Now remains the difficult but most important task of ensuring a lasting legacy and to build world-class national teams both at youth and senior level."