The date of 9 July 2011 was historic for South Sudan, as it was the day the country officially declared its independence. On 25 May of the next year, the young nation was officially affiliated to FIFA. And on 10 July, a little over a year after independence, another milestone was reached with their first officially sanctioned football game as a national team.
The match took place in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, in front of a lively crowd of 22,000. The opponent was Uganda, East and Central African (CECAFA) regional champions. The South Sudanese managed a 2-2 draw, twice coming back from behind to seal the result. "Playing against a well known side like Uganda and getting a draw is a very good start," confirmed South Sudan's Serb coach Zoran Djordjevic.
But beyond the game itself, that day proved that South Sudan is becoming increasingly integrated into the world of football. It followed intensive infrastructure work and cooperation between FIFA, CAF (African football’s governing body) and the football stakeholders in South Sudan to make sure the country was ready to take such a big step.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions with FIFA and our government about how best to develop the game in general, and our main priority will be setting up our own Premier League and applying for development projects to help fund academies and improve stadiums,” said SSFA President Chabur Goc Alei a few weeks ago to FIFA World, FIFA’s official magazine.
The first development steps were taken in late 2011. Preliminary discussions were held between CAF President Issa Hayatou and representatives of the embryonic SSFA, which were followed by several missions in January 2012 with the involvement of both FIFA and CAF.
Meetings with the main stakeholders were held and members of the football community from all parts of the country were convened to a founding congress. They then adopted statutes in line with FIFA requirements on 4 February 2012. The SSFA also adopted an electoral code and elected members of the electoral committee and the electoral appeal committee.
Development in process
CAF decided to admit the SSFA during the CAF Congress in Libreville on 10 February 2012, at which time the SSFA became the 54th CAF member. Elections for new office-holders were held on 30 April 2012. The members of the FIFA Member Associations and Development Division were involved and worked together with the SSFA in each phase of the process.
The SSFA also submitted an application for admission to FIFA, a request which could not be accepted at the time because FIFA Statutes then required an association to have been a member of a confederation for two years before it can be accepted. However, the procedure was amended at the last FIFA Congress in Budapest so that the two-year waiting period could be foregone. This measure immediately benefited the South Sudan Football Association, which was admitted as FIFA’s 209th member.
A FIFA delegation was recently in Juba for a development mission, to identify the projects and activities that will be supported by FIFA in the upcoming weeks and months. “Having South Sudan’s FA affiliated to FIFA is a fantastic first step. But I think it is even greater to see that since then things are quickly moving on, in the field of football development and on the pitch. This is what football is about,” said FIFA Member Associations and Development Division Director Thierry Regenass.