FIFA's Director of Communications promises to speak at the next Play the Game conference
After years of trying to engage FIFA in open debate about issues of governance in world football, organisers of the Play the Game conference were surprised to learn that FIFA's new Director of Communications and Public Affairs had decided to attend the conference and listen to a number of presentations. The surprise grew as Walter De Gregorio later told a group of journalists that he was prepared to speak at the next Play the Game conference.
"If you were invited personally, would you be prepared to go on stage and give a speech?" De Gregorio was asked by Kasper Lund Kirkegaard from the Danish Institute for Sports Studies.
"Certainly. I will be happy to discuss with Jennings and with Weinreich. I have no problem with that," said De Gregorio, who had just heard investigative journalist Andrew Jennings compare FIFA to a mafia organisation and investigative journalist Jens Weinreich detail a number of court cases facing the organisation.
Play the Game has been inviting FIFA to take part in its discussions since the inception of the conference in 1997. This time the invitation went out in February 2011 and was sent directly to the office of FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
"We invite you to share your visions for the future globalisation of football, to identify the most important challenges as you see them and to give your view on how the increased political interest in football can be used for the benefit of both football and the surrounding society," International Director of Play the Game Jens Sejer Andersen wrote in the invitation.
Much to Andersen's regret, the invitation was politely turned down by Blatter's office "due to a great amount of similar demands". For Andersen it is important to present the views of all stakeholders in sport, and he has gone to great lengths to facilitate FIFA's participation in the conference - even promising the organisation that it could choose its own topic for presentation.
So far in vain, but now - on a day entitled Change in Sports day - the signals from FIFA appeared to be changing too when De Gregorio turned up at the conference together with FIFA media advisor Bernd Fisa. De Gregorio explained that he was not responding to the official invitation, which he was not aware of. He said he came primarily to listen.
"I personally wasn't invited but I saw it a few days ago. But for me, it doesn't matter if I am invited or not - it is interesting and I am happy to be here," he said before promising to return in two year's time and take an active part in the discussions.
Andersen was very happy to learn of De Gregorio's promise:
"My only regret is that there are two years until the next conference," he said.