FIFA received a major honour at the opening ceremony of the 56th FIFA Congress in Munich today when German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed around 1,000 association delegates, among them more than 100 FIFA World Cup™ winners, as well as guests and media representatives. She was full of praise in her welcome speech, most notably saying that FIFA "is more than a sporting heavyweight as it also accepts its social responsibility".
Earlier, in his opening speech, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter had stressed that this meeting of football's parliament in Munich would have a significant effect on the future: "We now have to reach decisions to improve the management and transparency of football even more. Further steps are necessary, as reform is the only way to ensure that we stay in form". Blatter also stated that in recent years and decades, FIFA had changed more than it is sometimes given credit for. "FIFA has initiated and completed reforms; reforms that were born at Congresses like this one today."
At the centre of the two-and-a-half hour ceremony at the Munich Exhibition Centre, which also saw an address from Dr Edmund Stoiber, the Premier of the Free State of Bavaria, was the appearance of 109 former footballers who were all part of a team that won the FIFA World Cup™. Alcides Ghiggia (Uruguay), Pepe (Brazil), Giancarlo Antognoni (Italy), Horst Eckel (Germany), Mario Kempes (Argentina), Bernard Lama (France) and Jack Charlton (England) were the men chosen to represent the seven countries that have won the FIFA World Cup™, and they entered the stage with children from these countries. All of the world champions will also feature in the opening ceremony ahead of the first match of the World Cup, Germany v. Costa Rica in Munich on 9 June 2006.
The ceremony also featured artistic hip-hop and break-dance performances from FIFA Streetvision, a pyrotechnics show to unveil the associations' flags and the presentation of the FIFA Order of Merit to the following people: Dr Egidius Braun (former DFB president), Otto Schily (former German Minister of the Interior), Rudi Michel (legendary German sports reporter), Alan Rothenberg (president of the LOC for USA '94), Tan Sri Datuk Hamzah (long-serving FIFA Executive Committee member from Malaysia), Saburo Kawabuchi (president of the Japan Football Association), Issa Hayatou (Cameroon, CAF president and FIFA vice-president), Per Ravn Omdal (Norway, former member of the FIFA Executive Committee), Aleksey Paramonov (player and official from Russia), Jan Peeters (president of the Belgian football association), Oscar Thamar Torres (football official from Guatemala) and Guyedre Wamedjo (president of the New Caledonian football league). A special Order of Merit was also awarded to Honorary FIFA President Dr João Havelange, who celebrated his 90th birthday on 8 May 2006.
On Thursday, 8 June, the Congress will deliberate on matters such as whether to create an Ethics Committee as a judicial body. This topic is one of the challenges currently facing football, which the last FIFA Congress in Marrakech (Morocco) in September 2005 resolved to tackle. Since then, the FIFA Task Force "For the Good of the Game", a body created on the proposal of President Blatter, has been working in three distinct working groups on proposals to improve the management and transparency of football. Thirteen such proposals will be submitted to the Congress in Munich.
The Congress will be closed by a media conference attended by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and General Secretary Urs Linsi, as well as by the Foreign Ministers of France,Philippe Douste-Blazy, with regard to the "Unitaid" project.