NEWS
02/10/2012 03:43 EST | Updated 04/11/2012 05:12 EDT

FIFA president Blatter says match-fixing a sign that football is a victim of own popularity

LIBREVILLE, Gabon - Football has become a victim of its own popularity as shown by the swathe of match-fixing scandals in the past year, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said on Friday.

Speaking after attending the Confederation of African Football's general assembly, the head of world football suggested the problem was becoming an increasingly widespread worry for FIFA.

"(Match-fixing) is not a regional phenomenon. This has to be stopped," Blatter said. "We will talk about it at our FIFA Congress (in May)."

Blatter said the head of the international police organization, Interpol, would attend the congress in Budapest, Hungary, as the world football body continues to struggle to get to grips with match-fixing.

Earlier this week, the South African Football Association convinced FIFA to give priority to investigating allegations that international matches in the country leading up to the last World Cup in 2010 were fixed.

Africa's reputation is already battered by a scandal in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where more than 80 players have been suspended for alleged involvement in match-fixing. The Zimbabwe Football Association's former chief executive is facing corruption charges and is accused of masterminding the fixing of games involving the national team, where Zimbabwean players and officials are accused of being paid to lose.

But despite the sport's recently tarnished image, with Blatter's own organization involved in a string of corruption scandals, the FIFA president insisted "football is faring well."

Blatter pointed out FIFA had more members than the United Nations, adding "and I am still here."

Blatter was in Gabon to attend the annual CAF meeting as well as the African Cup of Nations final between Ivory Coast and Zambia on Sunday at Libreville's Stade de l'Amitie.

Alongside Blatter, CAF president Issa Hayatou praised co-hosts Gabon and Equatorial for their organization of Africa's top tournament and says the continental body is "satisfied."

Hayatou shrugged off concerns over near-deserted stadiums for some matches not involving the home teams. The quarterfinal between Zambia and Sudan was particularly embarrassing with only a handful of fans turning up at the 37,000-seat Estadio de Bata in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, for a last-eight game at the continent's premier competition.

Organizers gave away free tickets for the semifinals, but with both co-hosts already eliminated the stadiums were still only half full — at best.

"We would like the stadiums to be full but we do not have any power to get people out of their homes," Hayatou said.

Hayatou also responded to criticism that Africa's confederation had done little to help the victims of the Port Said stadium riot in Egypt in which more than 70 people died.

"Do you think a tragedy like that can leave us indifferent?" Hayatou said.

Blatter reiterated that FIFA had requested a report from the Egyptian Football Association following the disaster in which people were stabbed and crushed to death when fans rushed onto the field following a league game.