FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter has made a trip to Pago Pago in American Samoa to inaugurate a Goal project designed to rebuild the sporting infrastructure that was destroyed in the 2009 tsunami.
President Blatter is currently travelling around Oceania, with the itinerary of course including the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Congress. He and the FIFA delegation arrived in American Samoa on 13 January, and were welcomed at the airport at Pago Pago, the city where the government also has its headquarters, by current OFC president David Chung and by luli Alex Godinet, who is president of the Samoan Football Federation (FFSA).
American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States comprising the islands of Tutuila, Manu'a, Ofu, Olosega, Ta'u and Swains, covering around 200 square kilometres and with a population of some 65,000. The territory is better known for its rugby, and the football association – the FFAS – was only affiliated to FIFA in 1998.
President Blatter and FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke were invited to a dinner hosted by Mr and Mrs Togiola Tulafono, the former being the islands' governor and as such the head of state. The following morning, on Friday 14 January, a visit to the parliament was organised as well as a meeting with the spokesman and vice-president of the senate, who thanked the FIFA delegation for making their first ever visit to American Samoa.
Now more than ever, football needs to be used as a school of life, an educational tool to build a better future for the young people of American Samoa.
The visit continued with the focal point of the day's proceedings – the inauguration of the Goal project featuring new headquarters and a technical centre at Pago Park stadium. This was a project with a difference however, as it involved repair work as opposed to building from scratch.
On 29 September 2009, Samoa was hit by a terrible tsunami which left 31 people dead, many more injured and caused significant damage to property, including the training centre and the adjacent grass pitch which had been built thanks to the federation's first Goal project. They were located by the coast and therefore devastated by the tsunami. The building and the equipment were badly damaged while the pitch was totally destroyed. This second Goal project therefore sees a phoenix rising from the ashes as far as the Samoan FA is concerned.
The ceremony began with the handing out of garlands, which is a tradition in this part of the world, and was blessed by a priest accompanied by a local choir, making the event all the more moving. Messrs Chung and Godinet both underlined the values of unity and solidarity which football and those who play it can provide in such difficult circumstances. Mr Godinet pointed out that "the rebuilding involved a lot of hard work but was a rewarding experience, demonstrating just how much our community can achieve when we pull together in times of hardship." For Mr Chung, "just as football is much more than just a game, so these facilities are more than just a training centre. This is a place where players, referees and administrators can come to learn. Here, thanks to football, families can meet up and kids can develop their skills to become better citizens."
Governor Tulafono thanked FIFA for "their significant financial support which will be of benefit not only to football but to all of the sports played on the island". He also announced that further land had been put aside for the building of another pitch.
"Football as a vehicle for hope is not a vain concept, and the inauguration of this centre which was destroyed by the tsunami is proof of this. Now more than ever, football needs to be used as a school of life, an educational tool to build a better future for the young people of American Samoa," President Blatter concluded.
During the afternoon, Blatter went on to have informal meetings with all the presidents of the various Oceania national associations. Saturday then saw the FIFA President attending the OFC Congress before heading back to Europe.