Arriving in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, Blatter was greeted by Viphet Sihachakr, the head of the country’s football association, before paying a courtesy visit to Dr Phouthong Seng Akhom, President of the National Sports Committee.
With a population of six million, Laos stretches a total of 1,000 kilometres from north to south and shares borders with Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China. Affiliated to FIFA since 1952, the Laotian FA has been the recipient of three Goal projects to date (2001, 2005 and 2008) and is about to implement a fourth.
The opening of Goal III comes at a time when Laos’ women players are performing better than their male counterparts. While the men’s national team is lying 170th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, having never climbed higher than 134th, the country’s females are currently ranked 87th in the world, quite an achievement for a side that only played its first international in 2006.
The women’s academy opened by Blatter on Wednesday should aid their progress, and comprises 12 rooms providing accommodation, as well as a canteen with seating for 60 people and an office for use by the Football Committee.
“I said one day that the future of football was female,” said Blatter at the opening. “That comment was something a lot of people picked up on, and here with this project today, we can see that it has become a reality.”
As part of the ceremony the first stone of the Goal IV project, an artificial pitch, was also laid, an important step in enabling Laos’s national teams to maximise resources. The country has also signed up for FIFA’s PERFORMANCE programme, an initiative designed to aid management of the game.
“This academy sends out a strong signal and provides yet more proof that football can be played by women in any country,” the FIFA President said at the press conference that followed the opening.
With the support of FIFA, the Laotian FA has been giving serious support to women’s football for some time now. The Com-Unity seminar held in May 2009 laid the foundation for the development of the infrastructures, communication and marketing resources required by the women’s game, and was followed by a technical training course.
And in lending further support, FIFA sent German coach Monika Staab to Laos last year to advise the national women’s football association. Staab was formerly in charge of 1. FFC Frankfurt, where she coached the likes of Birgit Prinz, Steffi Jones and Renate Lingor.
Bringing the press conference to an end, Blatter said: “I sincerely hope football continues to lay the basis for and develop its socio-cultural role and that it becomes an even more integral part of society.”