Central and South America, 7 - 13 November
First stop: Venezuela
From the cloudy and low pressure climate of Zurich, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter landed in the Caribbean island of Margarita, just off the coast of Venezuela. This was the first stop-off, in a flying six day, five nation visit.
After a 30 minute flight to Caracas on the mainland, the first leg was to review the progress of the Venezuelan Football Federation's (F.V.F.) Goal project - probably the most ambitious to date. The impressive towers and grounds are now taking shape and will eventually transform into Venezuela's Football Federation's Centre of Excellence.
This was FIFA President Blatter's first visit to Venezuela, and he was taken aback at the size and ambition of the site and the construction already in place, described as the original pilot Goal project in South America.
The FIFA President then spoke to a group of national dignitaries and the Venezuelan football family - including Rafael Esquivel the F.V.F.'s president: "This project, once completed, will not only serve the youth of Venezuela as a centre of excellence, but is also an ideal geographical location for European clubs to train during their winter breaks."
Monday morning and early afternoon was spent on a tour of the Venezuelan Football Federation's offices. A press conference was held with the Venezuelan national media where the question was raised about the long South American qualifying format which runs from 2003 till 2005. The release of these players for an 18 match fixture list causes tension between club and country. The FIFA President said: "This is crazy it has to stop. It's not good for football and we will review the situation. This is definitely the last time the South American qualifiers will be played this way again."
Mr Blatter's comments were later echoed by Senior Vice-President Julio Grondona during a press conference in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Grondona commented: "This is the last time and the qualifying
system will be reviewed in December by CONMEBOL."
Frenzy for FIFA President in Honduras
|When he reached Honduras, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter was mobbed by journalists and football fans on his arrival at the airport.|
From Caracas onto Honduras for the next pit-stop in Tegucigalpa, the capital. No one could have been prepared for the amazing reception in Tegucigalpa airport. Much of central America is gripped by baseball fever, but arriving at the international airport it was 'Football Frenzy' as the huge press corps were eager to get stories from this historic first visit by the FIFA President. Practically pinned against an airport wall Blatter patiently answered questions fired from all directions.
Honduras' constitutional President Ricardo Maduro opened the palace doors to discuss football and sport in Honduran society. The government in Honduras has started a campaign called "Where there's a tractor there's a football pitch", so that where the government is repairing roads the equipment is also used to flatten land to play football.
Tuesday began with an historic first ever visit for the FIFA President to the Federation's offices in Tegucigalpa. Then off to the University Autonomous de Honduras to inspect the progress on the FIFA Goal project. The students from the department of architecture presented to the President designs for a mini-football stadium which will be constructed during the second phase of the Goal project on the university grounds where five pitches are currently under construction using funds from FIFA.
Like clockwork in Nicaragua
Another flight, another country, another full agenda. This time it's Nicaragua's turn to receive the FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, the FIFA vice-president Jack Warner and the FIFA delegation.
It's well known that there is a regional rivalry for the public's affections here between football and baseball. Mr Blatter emphasised how there is room for all sports to live together - with common goals and targets, and that football doesn't need to be the only sport. "After all, in Nicaragua there are over 27 or 28 different sports and all should be looked after, but naturally FIFA is football and we should promote our game," he said.
This time the protocol section of the trip took a different turn, with the keys to Managua being presented to the FIFA President by the Mayor Herty Lewites. Mr Blatter was proud to be an honoured guest in Nicaragua and raised his fist as he pointed to the new deputy-mayor of Managua, Alexis Arguello - three times world boxing champion in three different categories, but the message was not violence, it was one of unity "Football for everybody and everybody for football!"
Halfway through a trip and it was off to Managua's Presidential palace to meet Nicaragua's head of state Enrique Bolaños. The ambitious project to assist the Nicaraguan Football Federation, and its President Julio Rocha, in the construction of the first ever football stadium in the capital. Up until now all matches played in Managua have been played in the widest section of the field of the national baseball stadium.
After a short tour of the Federation's premises it was off to lay the first stone on the university grounds of Managua. The whole delegation walked between two lines of hundreds of children, smiling and shouting for the FIFA President to come over and say hello. This was not politics, but grass-roots in Nicaragua.
No half-measures in Panamanian rain
|Dely Valdez, Panamanian player and huge star in his country, receives his honour.|
Panama is famous for its canal, which splits North and South America, and its football holds much the same position in the FIFA ranking - about halfway. Landing in Panama in the rain, we were whizzed away for an evening tour of the Federation's premises under one of the stands of the national football stadium Rommel Fernadez.
The following day the FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and Vice-President Jack Warner are greeted privately by Panama's President Martin Torrijos. Blatter received the highest honour to be bestowed on a private citizen - the cross of La orden de Vasco Nuñez de Balboa. With time pressing it was another flight, this one in a military aircraft equipped with parachute cables, to fly to Penonome. Nobody was thinking of jumping, but the 30 minute flight was quite an experience.
Project Goal in Penonome is over 300km from the capital, Panama City. A mix of families and children cheered the arrival of the FIFA president and the delegation, then enjoyed the match organized between the national U-17 against the U-20 national teams. The project provides a tribune and two grass pitches, plus living quarters and dressing rooms for the players.
Goal Project makes big impression in Ecuador
Onto Ecuador where the Goal Project can only be described as 'Palatial'. The house of football for the Ecuadorian Football Federation is one of the most ambitious Goal projects ever to be completed. Everybody has been bowled over by its architecture and its scale. It was only fitting therefore, that both the country's President and FIFA's President should come together for the opening ceremony. Time again to meet the press, this time was for the presentation of the FIFA Jules Rimet award for service to football, presented to Alfonso Laso Bermeo. Alfonso has worked at twelve World Cups since 1954 and is among ten journalists, worldwide, who will receive the award.
In FIFA's centennial year the President Joseph S. Blatter finished yet another marathon visit. Since the beginning of the Goal Project the President has visited over 80 countries in the promotion of football and to construct football projects throughout the world. The energy and stamina to do this comes from a love of football. If the greatest game on this planet is to achieve an even higher status it can only be through programmes like the Goal projects. One man cannot do the job alone - it must be "All for football and football for all".