Blatter confirms Hansson will officiate at World Cup
Fifa gave its backing last night to Martin Hansson, the referee at the centre of the game's most recent high-profile controversies, and confirmed that he will officiate at the World Cup.
Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, will not bow to any clamour to sacrifice the Swedish referee after another torrent of criticism.
Hansson was blamed for missing the extra-time handball by Thierry Henry that led to the goal that helped to put Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup and now is the target of Arsene Wenger's rage after the disputed free-kick that gave Porto a first-leg lead over Arsenal in the Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday night.
Blatter dismissed any criticism, saying: "This is a never-ending story. It is not terrible. It is what can happen in football."
Wenger, the Arsenal manager, described Hansson's decision to allow Porto to take a quick free-kick in the Arsenal penalty area as "laughable," turning up the pressure on Hansson.
But Blatter and Fifa are standing by the referee, who has been through a series of intensive training sessions along with the panel of 14 European referees preparing for the World Cup in South Africa.
Some believe that the use of goal-line technology will take pressure off referees and Blatter said that it would be examined at a meeting next month, with Jerome Valcke, the Fifa general secretary, saying that the use of video technology during matches is now on the table.
"We are human and if the system is not perfect today then, if we can improve it, we will," Valcke said. "Do we need to use video at a game? My opinion is that it would be a huge mistake, but there will be a lot of discussion about that.
"It is true that there are mistakes, but how many compared to the amount of action and the number of goals in a weekend? So let us not make a decision too quickly based on the pressure from outside."
The pace of change may not be quick enough for some, though, and Blatter, the most powerful man in world football, could face the most determined challenge yet to his reign.
Mohamed bin Hammam, president of the Asian Confederation, is expected to stand against Blatter in the presidential elections next year. Bin Hammam has raised the stakes by calling on the Fifa Executive Committee to introduce a limit of eight years for the presidency at its meeting next month; a direct challenge to Blatter, who has been in power since 1998.
Blatter refused yesterday, however, to back away from seeking a fresh term from June next year, even though he will be 75 by then. "I am still here and I hope I am still there in 2011; I have not yet finished my mission," Blatter said. (© The Times, London)