The President of the Republic of Mongolia, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, made his first visit to FIFA headquarters on Wednesday, where he met with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter to discuss football and the social contribution it has to make.
“Today the FIFA headquarters are the focal point of football,” said Blatter, “and it is not every day that we have the honour of welcoming a head of state.
"It is a great honour for me to be welcomed here today,” replied the Mongolian president with a smile. “We love football. In fact, I even get up in the middle of the night to watch matches on TV.”
With a population of 2.8 million inhabitants and a land mass of 1.5 million square kilometres, Mongolia is the 19th-largest country in the world. And though the nation does not figure in the global football elite, there is genuine interest in the game among its youngsters.
“My government is providing systematic support to the national association,” added Elbegdorj. “Sport and football in particular embrace important values: team spirit, national pride and the will to win.”
The FIFA President, who knows Mongolia well following his 2007 visit, then explained the role of world football’s governing body. “FIFA’s mission involves more than just organising competitions,” he explained. “It also ensures that football respects the values of fair play, respect and discipline. The socio-cultural impact of football is significant.”
Mongolia has the potential to become a major footballing power.
One of the challenges facing Mongolian football is posed by the country’s climate. Ulan Bator has the lowest average temperature of any capital city in the world, and winters are long and cold, while summers are short.
“It’s not easy to play football in Mongolia,” added Blatter. “The inclement weather often makes pitches unplayable, but we are aiming to get young people playing the game through our various development programmes.”
Thanks to Goal Projects I and II, that objective is becoming a reality, with an artificial pitch and academy complex having now been built in Ulan Bator.
A possible avenue of growth is futsal, a variant of the game that would not be at the mercy of Mongolia’s harsh climate. On that subject the country’s president had this to say: “In June we will be opening an indoor futsal pitch, which has been made possible by Goal Project III. It’s a very popular sport among schoolchildren between the ages of eight and ten.”
President Elbegdorj’s primary concern, however, is the social role of football, and he expressed his intention to give youngsters every chance to play the game: “There is a lot of building work going on in Mongolia and business owners are always looking to find land to build on. In my opinion, however, it is essential that children have areas to play in. That is why my government and I are doing everything we can to stop playing fields and football pitches in particular from being built on.”
Similarly convinced of the contribution football has to make to society, Blatter voiced his agreement. “I’m proud that you have highlighted the social aspect of football, especially in schools,” he said. “In fact, I often tell myself that football is a school of life.”
As the Mongolian delegation prepared to depart for Davos to attend the World Economic Forum, President Elbegdorj expressed his vision of the future for Mongolian football: “Mongolia has the potential to become a major footballing power. One day we can host the Asian Cup and perhaps even the World Cup. Why not? I can see us making a bid for 2050. You have to have dreams in life and maybe I will even have the chance to see my great-great-grandchildren play in a World Cup in Mongolia.”