FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter attended the opening of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup on Saturday in Azerbaijan, in what constituted an historic occasion for the women’s game with its first global sports competition held in the region.
“Azerbaijan is traditionally a melting pot of civilizations and cultures, a place where the East meets the West,” said President Blatter during a press conference held the day before the kick-off of the tournament.
“Organising a Women’s World Cup in this country is a symbol for the region and for the world that football is open to all cultures and all civilizations. Football is for all.”
Following the press conference, the FIFA President was received at the presidential palace in Baku by Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, who also stressed how important it was to host a Women’s World Cup in his country, as a strong symbol for neighbouring countries that top-level women’s competitions can be hosted in the area.
During his visit, President Blatter had the chance to officially open the AIPS Young Reporters Programme, which brought 16 young journalists from all over the world to cover the competition, in the presence of AIPS President Gianni Merlo and Youth & Sports Minister of Azerbaijan Azad Rahimov.
The FIFA President stressed the importance of media independence and encouraged the reporters to go beyond writing only about the results of matches to transmit the emotions and the values of sport.
Next on the agenda was a visit to a FIFA coaching course for women’s football being held in Azerbaijan coinciding with the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. President Blatter greeted the participants coming from 16 European countries, and underlined how crucial it is to have more female coaches in the game for the development of women’s football.
On Saturday, Blatter also had the chance to see the first three matches played in Baku, where he could witness the enthusiasm of the local fans for the event, with several thousand spectators at each match.
One of the highlights for the locals and the visitors was a spectacular opening ceremony, featuring international superstars Jennifer Lopez and Cirque du Soleil.
The FIFA President concluded his visit by praising the organisation, led by Azerbaijan football association president Rovnag Abdulayev and LOC Chairman Elkhan Mammadov, for a fantastic organisation of the event so far.