FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter began his tour of Central America in the Dominican Republic on Sunday afternoon. The main objective of this first stop was the reopening of the Estadio Panamericano de Futbol and the laying of the first foundation stone of a football pitch at the San Cristobal academy, initiatives that are both being funded by the FIFA Goal Project, which aims to develop football in the country.
Accompanied by FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke and Jeffrey Webb, the President of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), President Blatter was welcomed at Las Americas International Airport in the country’s capital Santo Domingo by Osiris Guzman, the President of the Dominican Football Federation (FEDOFUTBOL).
The FIFA President and his delegation continued their busy schedule the following morning with an official breakfast, which was also attended by the Dominican Republic’s Vice-Minister for Sport Marcos Diaz, the President of the Dominican Olympic Committee Luisin Mejia, and former Spain international Fran.
“I am very happy to see the enthusiasm the young people of the Dominican Republic have for football,” said the FIFA President. “I think the conditions are right for its development, especially now that leagues in a number of age groups have been organised. Football is both education and the ongoing work of the national association with the government, business leaders and the media.”
The ceremonial nature of the visit continued with a visit to the presidential palace, where President Blatter had an audience with the President of the Republic Danilo Medina Sanchez, with the country’s Minister of Sport Dr Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal also present.
Medina Sanchez said he was “honoured” to welcome the delegation headed by President Blatter before setting out his two key priorities in overseeing the development of the game: promoting football and futsal in particular at schools, and taking the sport to the towns and villages near the border with Haiti, with a view to forging links across both sides of the frontier.
The Dominican leader added that his objectives also included the development of the women’s game and the training of teacher/coaches to work in the country’s schools.
Futsal takes centre stage
The next port of call for the delegation was the city of San Cristobal, the home of the Joseph Blatter Academy, where the FIFA President planted a tree and also laid the foundation stone of the gym that will house a futsal court.
A pioneer in the development of futsal, FEDOFUTBOL’s Communications Director Joaquin Vazquez Mendoza spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the project. Having worked previously with the Royal Spanish Futsal Association (RFEF), the Brazilian Futsal Confederation (CBFS) and Barcelona’s futsal team, he is optimistic about the future.
“The sport is enjoying an amazing boom here,” he explained. “Football and futsal in particular are attracting more schoolboys and girls than more traditional sports such as basketball and volleyball. Projects like this will help that boom to continue because they will allow our national team to prepare better and help us attract international matches.”
“There is no such thing as professional futsal in the Dominican Republic," added Mendoza. "However, there are teams playing in private leagues and other leagues attached to the national association, though no competition has been organised as yet. This construction project will provide us with a means, therefore, of paving the way for the country’s first national futsal league. FIFA certainly believes that is possible and here is the proof of that.”
President Blatter ended his visit to the country by reopening the Estadio Panamericano de Futbol. A troupe of dancers moving to the rhythm of merengue music brought a splash of colour to the event, while a large group of boys and girls got first use of the refurbished stadium’s pitch as soon as the ribbon was cut.
“This stadium is a legacy left by FIFA, an important one for the development of youth football,” he said at the press conference that followed. “It also provides support for the Federation, which has done a great job in recent years. With its support of men’s and women’s football at grassroots, there is no question it is on the right track in terms of education and development.”
Having dispatched their duties and thoroughly enjoyed their visit, the FIFA President and his delegation then set off for Haiti, the next leg of their tour of the region.