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FOOTBALL

Blatter rejects Cup safety fears

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Sepp Blatter

DAVOS, Switzerland (CNN) -- FIFA president Sepp Blatter has rejected concerns over stadium safety at this year's World Cup finals in Germany and vowed that everything will be ready for kick-off on June 9.

Last week Germany launched a parliamentary inquiry after a consumer group, Stiftung Warentest, reported that four of the 12 stadiums to be used -- including Berlin's Olympic Stadium, which will host the final -- had severe safety flaws.

But, speaking to CNN's Richard Quest at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Blatter said those critical of preparations were "abusing football to make headlines," and expressed his trust in tournament organizers.

Stiftung Warentest said venues in Berlin, Leipzig and Gelsenkirchen lacked adequate exit routes to handle an emergency evacuation and highlighted fire hazards at a fourth stadium in Kaiserslautern as well as detailing minor safety concerns at four other grounds.

"There are problems created by some German consumer organizations by saying the stadia are not safe, but that's not true," said Blatter, the head of world football's organizing body.

"We trust the German authorities and the German organizing committee to have everything ready for this year's World Cup. No problems."

On Wednesday Blatter, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan attended a lunch at the World Social Forum highlighting the role of sport in global development.

Blatter told CNN that football needed to do more to tackle racism and called for tougher penalties against clubs and individuals, including the deduction of points, relegation and elimination from competitions.

"I am so very disappointed that racism in 2006 is still a part of our game," he said. "This can only be changed with concrete measures such as deducting points, or if you relegate a team or don't permit football to be played in a city. Financial fines are nothing. We can always find money to pay."

Blatter said he believed football could be a force for social change in the world, but admitted that more could be done.

"I'm sure that a ball can change the world, even if it is a small change," he said. "We have done a lot of things in the past and we can do some more and better things in the future. With the importance of football around the world and with one billion people directly involved in our game we can try to make a better world."

IOC chief Rogge told CNN the World Economic Forum's invitation to sporting chiefs was recognition of the "social value of sport and its interaction with the economic world."

Rogge said: "You know, sport is a big social force. We have 800 million people practicing sport on this globe and more than five million sports clubs and sport is not only education, it brings us social cohesion and so, ultimately, has an economic effect."

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