Following a visit to H.E. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the football loving President of the Maldives, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter together with AFC President and Tsunami Task Force chairman Mohammed Bin Hammam continued their Solidarity visit to Tsunami affected countries in nearby Sri Lanka.
From the Sri Lankan capital Colombo they flew by helicopter to the coastal town of Kalutara, where in a brief ceremony a plaque was unveiled, symbolizing the start of the construction of one of the 18 football centres which will be built all over Sri Lanka.
The construction of these centres totaling $3 million was made possible through the FIFA/AFC Tsunami Solidarity fund and they will be completed at the end of the year under the supervision of the FIFA Development Officer in Colombo, Mr. Manilal Fernando.
From the site of the future football centre in Kalutara, the FIFA/AFC delegation proceeded to the town's beach, passing the waterfront area of the town, where the destruction caused by the Tsunami is still painfully visible.
In front of over a thousand people, among them many children from all over the 18 regions that will benefit these projects, Mr. Blatter and Bin Hammam inaugurated the newly established Kalutara Beach Soccer ground. The ceremony included a welcome address from the Football Federation of Sri Lanka FFSL President Thilina Panditharathne and speeches from Mr. Fernando and the FIFA and AFC Presidents.
A special surprise
Mr. N. Ediriveerasingham, a representative from the Tamil region, presented a plaque of appreciation from the Tamil Eelam Sports Council to the FIFA President while emphasizing that football can be instrumental in bringing people together and promoting peace between the various factions on the island.
He invited both presidents to visit Sri Lanka again in the future, when the tournament between the 18 regions will take place. Following the ceremony, a short 'Peace' beach soccer match between representative of north and south Sri Lanka was played.
In the press conference which ensued, Mr. Blatter said: "This ceremony was pure emotion. I am touched by the contrast between the Tsunami tragedy and the smile on the faces of these children. This is football for hope!"
Upon their return to Colombo, the presidents paid a visit to the President of the Republic of Sri Lanka H.E. Mahindra Rajapakse, where Blatter highlighted the various projects in the country which were funded by the FIFA/AFC Tsunami fund. In doing so, both gentlemen had the rare honour of meeting two different heads of state in one day.