The month of September 2008 was a very hectic yet very positive one for the world of football and FIFA. If I were to try to sum the month up in just three words, I would use "good news" and "challenges".
Good news, because I not only saw concrete evidence of significant progress in the preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ during my trip to South Africa, but also because I had the opportunity to talk to many of the people who are building the stadiums. It was wonderful to see just how closely they identify with their work and the World Cup itself. It was with that in mind that I decided that every single one of the approximately 20,000 construction workers in the ten World Cup stadiums should receive a very special bonus, namely two free World Cup tickets so that each of them can experience the opening matches in "their" stadiums together with their loved ones.
For anyone, and I include myself in that, having the opportunity to meet the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, a man who has also won the Nobel Peace Prize, is always both a privilege and an honour. Although I have met him on more than one occasion, every time our paths cross I cannot fail to be touched and moved by a wonderful man who has dedicated his life to the fight for justice and peace all around the world. Mandela's devotion to his home country is without equal.
As if that were not enough by way of good news, I was also able to pay a visit to ANC President Jacob Zuma. Our discussions were held in a wonderful atmosphere, and I left in no doubt whatsoever that the 2010 FIFA World Cup will have the full support of all of the political parties.
September's good news was not just related to the World Cup in South Africa, however, as there were also positive developments in a number of other areas of the game. Take the discussions over 6+5, for example, an initiative that was approved by this year's FIFA Congress with a view towards strengthening national teams, or even the week of committee meetings at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, which gave rise to some excellent debates about the development of football and FIFA's competitions.
I have been the President of FIFA for more than ten years now, and during that time I have often said that football can bring people together. The most recent example of that message came in a World Cup qualifier between Armenia and Turkey in Yerevan, a match that Turkish President Gul attended in person. The clock is also ticking down towards another historic occasion as Palestine will most likely play host to its very first match in October, and what is more, in a stadium that was part-financed by FIFA.
All of this is not to say that there are no longer any challenges to face in the world of football. Football is a mirror of society, which means that - unfortunately - our game is still blighted by scourges such as match-fixing and racism. We have to tackle these negative aspects together. There is no place in football for corruption and racism. Let us all stand together and fight for good, clean, correct football. There is no challenge more worthy.
For the Game. For the World.