Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, the 67-year-old Swiss president of FIFA, came in for scathing criticism from some of international soccer's top stars Friday after suggesting that female players start wearing sexier outfits, such as tighter shorts.
"Let the women play in more feminine clothes, like they do in volleyball," Blatter told the Swiss newspaper Sonntagsblick. "They could for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men -- such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?"
In point of fact, the ball used in the women's game is the same as that used by men, but that mistake by Blatter paled to insignificance when compared to his comments on clothing.
"If I wanted to wear a bikini, I would have chosen to play beach volleyball," Norwegian international Solveig Gulbrandsen said.
"If the crowd only wants to come and watch models, then they should go and buy a copy of Playboy," teammate Lise Klaveness added.
"We don't use a lighter ball, for one thing, and to say we should play football in hot pants is plain ridiculous," England national team goalkeeper Pauline Cope said. "It's completely irresponsible for a man in a powerful position to make comments like this."
The reaction among U.S. players was equally critical.
"Anyone who thinks that a uniform will draw people to the game is severely off base," two-time world champion and Olympic gold-medal winner Brandi Chastain said.
"The game of football is what brings people to the stadium, not what the players are wearing. He should continue to focus on the development of the women's game, rather than trying to sexualize it."
Added teammate Julie Foudy, president of the Women's Sports Foundation, "Instead of talking about tight shorts, FIFA should be focusing on increasing its support for the women's game by instituting another world championship for youth women, pushing federations around the world to support their women's programs, or giving prize money to teams in the Women's World Cup.
"We'll start wearing tighter shorts when he starts doing press conferences in his bathing suit."
American midfielder Ricardo Clark will not play in next month's CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the 2004 Athens Olympics after undergoing a hernia operation Friday in Milwaukee.
The New York/New Jersey MetroStars and U.S. under-23 national team player will be out for up to eight weeks and will miss the Feb. 3-12 tournament in Guadalajara.
Manchester United and England national team defender Rio Ferdinand said he would appeal the eight-month ban imposed on him for missing a random drug test last September, but that he would begin serving the suspension on Monday.
The appeal, if successful, could lead to a reduction in the length of the ban and thereby make Ferdinand available to England for the European Championship in Portugal in June.
"If starting the suspension now will help, then I am prepared to suffer it," Ferdinand said.
Parma midfielder Manuele Blasi, 23, was suspended for six months by the Italian league after testing positive for the banned steroid nandrolone.... Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron is returning to Buenos Aires for possible back surgery to resolve an injury that has kept him sidelined since November.
Times wire services contributed to this report.