In the Caribbean, music is a constant companion. It was therefore no surprise that the 59th FIFA Congress should open with dance and the song Kooza. The ceremony was then hosted by well-known American reporter Jennifer Santiago.
After the Royal Bahamas Police Force Marching Band had played the FIFA hymn, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter welcomed the delegates from the member associations present in the hall and officially opened the Congress, commenting that "With the world in crisis, there is need for solidarity and respect. Football can play an active part in bringing people together and giving them hope. This is why we are going to talk about protecting the game and the players, in particular minors, at this Congress". A tribute was then paid to the host association with the appearance on stage of Anton Sealey, the President of the Bahamas Football Association.
Mr Sealey was then followed on stage by the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham, who emphasised both his country's involvement in the Congress and the event's importance: "The Bahamas is a country of sporting tradition and tourism, which is a perfect combination for hosting this Congress. Many people are involved in making this event a success. In the Bahamas, we say ‘Once is not enough', so I hope you will come back!"
The Royal Bahamas Police Force Marching Band provided another musical interlude before it was time to get down to the serious business. FIFA's mission is divided into three pillars - Develop the game, touch the world, build a better future - which were all brought to the fore during the course of the evening.
Three pillars personified
To represent the concept of "Develop the game", the General Secretary of the Bermuda Football Association, David Sabir, came on stage to explain how FIFA's development programmes had helped his country to grow. "FIFA has given us the chance to develop by giving us a headquarters, just as it has done with all member associations. This enables our administrators, referees, coaches and players to progress. The artificial pitch we now have enables children to play. And to dream. With FIFA's assistance, our children are able to dream."
For the second pillar, "Touch the world", Jennifer Santiago presented Julie Foudy, "one of the most decorated players in US football, a world champion in 1991 and 1999 and a two-time Olympic champion in 1996 and 2004", who gave her assessment of the development of women's football, underlining "the importance for young girls all over the world of having competitions like the U-17 and U-20 Women's World Cups because it enables them to say ‘one day that will be me'. The level improves year on year thanks to FIFA's development programmes in particular. But there is still a lot of work to do!"
The final pillar, "Build a better future" was represented by Stay-C Namases, general manager of the Football for Hope centre in Namibia, which will be opened as part of the 20 Centres for 2010 campaign. "The aim of this campaign is to provide access to health and education, particularly for the underprivileged. We would like to harness the enormous popularity of the World Cup to inform people about this programme," she noted.
Next up was the Official Art Poster Edition of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Seventeen contemporary artists have painted pictures inspired by FIFA's flagship competition, which will be sold with part of the revenue generated being channelled into the 20 Centres for 2010 campaign.
Romero Britto and the 20 centres
Romero Britto, a world-famous Brazilian artist, is one of the painters taking part in this project. He travelled from Miami with two of his works to explain the reasons behind his commitment to this campaign: "For me it is an honour to take part in the World Cup in this manner. The sport is part of my life and I particularly like what it promotes: friendship and humanity. That is why I'm pleased to be here."
On stage, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke decided that FIFA would buy the second picture and make an additional donation of USD 100,000 to the 20 Centres for 2010 campaign. "We began this campaign by deciding to donate USD 500 for each goal scored during the qualifying competition for South Africa 2010. But I think we can do even better than that, which is why FIFA is going to donate USD 100,000," he said.
It was then time to bring the ceremony to a close before the real debating between FIFA member associations begins on Wednesday morning. But as everything starts and ends with music in the Bahamas, the curtain went down to the sound of the drums and other percussion instruments of the Valley Boys, winners of the biennial Junkanoo parade.