The FIFA President is a man of action. He visited the nations affected by the Tsunami in person to get a first-hand view of the aid work being carried out by FIFA. Funds of over $10.6 million have been raised by the football family, and are managed by President of the FIFA/AFC Tsunami Fund, Mohamed Bin Hammam, who is also President of the Asian Football Confederation. Some $8.7 million has already been used for construction projects in six FIFA member nations: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Football grounds have been rebuilt, club facilities reconstructed, balls handed out to children, and matches organised.
Male, message of hope
Joseph S.Blatter and Mohamed Bin Hammam had a very busy itinerary. Their visit commenced on the island of Male in the Maldives, where they learned of the work carried out at Football House. The building was opened barely two years ago as part of FIFA's Goal project, but part of the installation and the infrastructure required rebuilding after being flooded. It is difficult to imagine that the artificial pitch just in front of the building, now restored to perfect condition, was covered in waist-high water! As part of the aid programme, work is in progress to lay foundations for a new artificial pitch adjacent to the old one and to erect floodlights and build new changing rooms. Additional projects include constructing an artificial pitch on the neighbouring atoll of Addu.
The two presidents discussed progress with Minister for Sport Hussain Hilmy, and Minister for Education Zahiya Zareer. The following day, before departing for Colombo, Sri Lanka, they met the President of the Republic of Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. A passionate football fan, the head of state was delighted with the aid being provided to young people by FIFA, as well as the first visit of its President to the Maldives.
From the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, the two travelled by helicopter to the coastal town of Kalutara. There, they attended a brief ceremony organised to unveil a plaque symbolising the commencement of construction work on 18 football centres to be built in Sri Lanka. Work will be completed by the end of the year. From the future site of the football centre in Kalutara, the FIFA/AFC delegation headed towards the municipal beach, travelling along the sea front where some of the devastation caused by the tsunami is still painfully evident.
In front of more than 1,000 people, many of them children from the 18 regions that will benefit from the projects, Joseph S. Blatter and Mohamed Bin Hammam opened the new Kalutara Beach Soccer pitch. M. N. Ediriveerasingham, a representative of the Tamil region, handed the FIFA President a plaque as a token of appreciation on behalf of the Tamil Eelam Sports Council, and declared: "Football is helping to bring people together and promote peace between the different factions on the island."
On their return to Colombo, the two Presidents met the President of the Republic of Sri Lanka, Mahindra Rajapakse. Joseph S. Blatter informed the President of the various projects financed in the country by the FIFA/AFC Tsunami Solidarity Fund and declared: "I am touched by the contrast between the tragedy of the tsunami and the smiles that lit up the faces of the children I met. That is what I mean by 'football for Hope'!"
Banda Aceh, desolation
The following day, the FIFA delegation flew to Indonesia and the region of Banda Aceh. Welcomed by the Governor, Mustafa Abu Bakar, the delegation headed to one of the sites worst affected by the disaster. The extent of the damage apparent everywhere brought home the sheer violence of the wave that devastated the area.
A cargo plan had landed in the middle of a residential area. Now, the ravaged houses are once again inhabited. However, one did not have to look far to see mountains of debris still covering the ground. The delegation was warmly received at Football Club Calos, a club that had been literally decimated. The Presidents were keen to see the progress at the Lampineuung stadium and enquired about the work at all six clubs receiving aid.
Phuket, a happy future
That evening, the tour continued with a visit to Phuket, Thailand. The following morning, Joseph S. Blatter and his delegation travelled to the area hit by the tsunami. The visitors toured a school under reconstruction situated close to the sea, before scaling the heights of Phuket.
The President launched the construction of a completely new football training and education centre. The contracts were signed at the beginning of the year and work can now commence. Governor Udomsak Uswarangkura was extremely honoured to receive the delegation. The FIFA President concluded his tour with some final thoughts: "football is truly a school for life. It teaches us how to play together, sometimes to lose, but also to regain hope."