The FIFA Paradise Retreat
Harare – World soccer’s leadership converged in Mauritius this past week for a FIFA Congress that consolidates the legacy of the organisation’s president, Sepp Blatter, on a continent that has reaped a lot from his personal crusade to promote Africa and its football.
The Indian Ocean island also provided the setting for world football leaders to take a firm stance against racism with a cocktail of tough measures aimed at bringing the cancer to an end.
The 75-year-old Swiss has championed African football and was a lone island of belief in an ocean of doubters that one of the countries on the continent could host the FIFA World Cup.
Blatter was rewarded for his faith as South Africa staged one of the most successful FIFA World Cup finals ever back in 2010, boosted by strong attendance figures at its matches, colourful fans, the unique sound of the vuvuzela and some exciting football.
FIFA has also poured millions into its Goal Projects in Africa, a key arm of the organisation’s development programmes on the continent.
And on May 26 Blatter opened Mauritius’ fourth Goal Project, which involved the installation of a football pitch in the Trianon Technical Centre – which cost the Zurich organisation US$2 million.
The technical centre is now a focal point of football development on the Indian Ocean island, and a key facility for the estimated 80 000 football players in that country.
FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke, COSAFA president Suketu Patel, Mauritius Minister of Youth and Sport, Satyaprakash Ritoo, Mauritius National Olympic Committee President Philippe Hao Thyn Voon Ha Shun, and Mauritius FA President Dinnanathlall Persunnoo attended the ceremony.
“Today's a historical day for Mauritius football since we inaugurate this state-of-the-art facility built thanks to FIFA’s Goal programme,” Blatter said in comments carried on the official FIFA website.
Fifa have spent US$67.6m in the past 14 years to bankroll 163 Goal Projects in Africa.
The funds have been injected into the construction of 73 technical centres, the laying of 39 football pitches and the building of 29 FA headquarters. The Mauritius FA headquarters will now be renamed Sepp Blatter House in honour of the contribution made by the FIFA president.
“I feel proud because this is the acknowledgement of FIFA's and my work towards the development of football worldwide,” said Blatter
FIFA have also injected an additional US$260m in Africa since 1999 through the Financial Assistance Programme. Further, the Win in Africa with Africa saw another US$70m being pumped into the projects on the continent.
Mauritius was one of the first countries to implement the 11 for Health Programme initiated by FIFA, and in the last three years both the country’s Football Association and the government have worked closely in a project that has benefited more than 20 000 children.
The programme targets students in their first year of secondary school, and uses a football-based programme to teach them how to live a healthy life.
“Throughout the past years, Africa has been the largest recipient of FIFA Goal projects,” FIFA director of Member Associations and Development, Thierry Regenass, said.
“Mauritius is a good example of how, in spite of difficult structural and geographical conditions, effective development initiatives can be implemented in a variety of areas, thus making a concrete contribution to local population.”
The FIFA Congress also discussed the reforms that Blatter promised last year when he was given a fresh – and final – mandate to lead an organisation that had taken quite a battering, in terms of its profile, amid accusations of corruption.
Blatter set the congress’ tone in the official agenda that he circulated to member associations.
“After tabling FIFA’s roadmap for good governance at the congress in 2011, you will remember that the key objective in 2012 was to translate those words into action.
“And I am pleased to say that thanks to your support, a number of landmark decisions were taken at the 2012 congress in Budapest.
“I look forward to further important decisions being passed at the Congress in 2013 to complete the reform process and bring FIFA up to the highest standards of good governance, as befits an organisation such as ours, which plays such a fundamental role in society.
“As well as securing FIFA’s future wellbeing through our final series of reforms, at this year’s congress we will look back at our achievements from the past 12 months, which include another excellent year of competitions at both youth and senior level in men’s and women’s football.
“We will also reflect on such milestones as the introduction of goal-line technology and the Club Protection Programme, and be presented with reports on our continued financial good health.
“Finally, although there is much to be proud of in our game, we must also be mindful of the threats posed to football, of which there are none greater than discrimination, racism and match manipulation.
“I am confident that FIFA will emerge stronger, as united as always, and well equipped to continue serving the millions of people in football we represent.”
That FIFA leaders put the challenges posed by racism so high on their agenda for a congress in Africa is timely given that the majority of players who have borne the brunt of racism are from this continent.
“A resolution to fight against racism and any form of discrimination in football shall be adopted, and this is crucial,” Blatter said in an interview with FIFA.com distributed to the world media.
“This resolution shall be binding for all member associations. The three proposals made by the task force at its first meeting on 6 May make pure sense.
“Because even if we have always to work on education to eradicate the issue of anti-discrimination, I believe we need to have stronger sanctions.
“In my view, fines achieve little and, on the contrary, point deductions and exclusions from competitions could be more effective.”
Africa has also had its major challenges with match-fixing and Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa have battled with this disease in recent years; while six Zambians players were spared jail, in Finland, but kicked out of the game after being caught in a match-fixing web.
“The issue of match manipulation will also be high on the agenda of the Congress. This scourge is not an issue of society. It is an issue of football, which we need to fight against strongly,” said Blatter.
“For this, it requires solidarity within the football community and the help of public authorities.”
Lydia Nsekera, the president of the Burundi Football Association, made history two years ago when she was co-opted as the first female member of the FIFA executive committee. The Congress in Mauritius will see the election of a female FIFA executive committee member.