The opening ceremony of the 58th FIFA Congress took place today (Thursday 29 May 2008) at the world-famous Sydney Opera House. The year 2008 marks the first-ever time that FIFA's supreme and legislative body has convened in Australia.
More than 1,000 people, including representatives from FIFA's member associations and the confederations, as well as many other officials, guests and observers joined FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, Australia Prime Minister the Honourable Kevin Rudd and Chairman of the Football Federation Australia (FFA) Frank Lowy AC at a colourful ceremony which put a special focus on the three pillars of FIFA's mission to "Develop the game, touch the world, build a better future" (more details on FIFA's mission available by clicking on the link to the right).
Joseph S. Blatter, who gave a special welcome to FIFA's Honorary President, Dr João Havelange, stated in his address to the audience: "I would like to thank Australia, the state of New South Wales, the city of Sydney and the population here for their warm and wonderful welcome. We are at the Sydney Opera House, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Who could ask for a better setting for our Congress? The development of football in Australia in recent years, with Chairman Frank Lowy and his team, has been remarkable. And I'm sure they will do more in the future." The FIFA President continued: "With 260 million active participants and one billion people directly or indirectly touched by football, our game enjoys wonderful popularity worldwide. And therefore football has a huge responsibility. We must make sure that the evils of our world do not come into football. Football is hope, football brings emotions. Let's build a better future."
The Honourable Kevin Rudd, Australian Prime Minister welcomed all Congress participants. "Football is the most truly global sport of all," he said. "Football brings people together from all corners of the world. Australia is a country of extraordinary ethnic and cultural diversity, which we are very proud of. It also is a country of immigrants. They brought a living passion for football. The Australian government fully supports Australia's bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Australians love to be part of a global celebration. The 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney were an extraordinary event for us." The Australian Prime Minister was then presented with the Presidential Medal by Joseph S. Blatter.
Frank Lowy, Chairman of the Football Federation Australia (FFA), declared: "It is a privilege for the Football Federation Australia to host the 58th FIFA Congress. Australia wants to be a contributor to the world of football. We have big ambitions but we still need to do a lot of work to reach our potential. We want to work together with the Asian Football Confederation - which we have been a member of since a few years - as well as our friends in Oceania."
Leading artists from Australia, including multi-instrumentalist James Morrison, didgeridoo player William Barton, percussionist Michael Askill, musical director Ken Laing, creative director Greg Bowman along with an array of performers representing the regions of the world gave the event a cultural and festive touch. The stunning performances included a "Welcome to Country" in Aboriginal language and a spectacular finale featured the Opera House Grand Organ and Orchestra under the baton of Tommy Tycho in a stirring rendition of the FIFA anthem.
The FIFA Order of Merit was awarded to His Excellency Alpha Oumar Konaré (Mali), the former President of Mali and former Chairman of the Commission of the African Union, Paolo Maldini, Italy's most-capped player of all time, Isaac David Sasso Sasso (Costa Rica), who served on the FIFA Executive Committee for 17 years, Nicolás Abumohor (Chile), the former President of the Chilean Football Association, Zhang Jilong (China), the Vice-President of the Chinese Football Association and the East Asian Football Federation, Mohammed Yusuf (Fiji), the Senior Vice-President of the Fiji Football Association, and Helen Petermann, the right arm - for more than 30 years - of the former Technical Director, then General Secretary and now President of FIFA, Joseph S. Blatter.
The second and final day of the 58th FIFA Congress will take place tomorrow. Items on the agenda include the FIFA President's address, "6+5", the World Anti-Doping Code, players' eligibility to play for representative teams and the principle of promotion and relegation (full agenda available by clicking on the link to the right).