VIPs flock to New Year reception
© Foto-net

A host of VIP guests made their way to Home of FIFA in Zurich on Wednesday 13 January 2010 for FIFA’s traditional New Year reception or apéro, a French term for a pre-dinner get-together. Leading personalities from sport, the arts, business and politics gladly accepted the invitation issued by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. Those present included Formula 1 team owner Peter Sauber, 1974 FIFA World Cup™ winner Gunter Netzer, Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, and Rene Fasel, President of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and International Olympic Committee member.

After a brief introduction from master of ceremonies Matthias Hueppi, the FIFA President delivered his welcome speech. “Normally, we would start the new year with joy and good wishes. But today, the worldwide family of football is grieving,” he began, referring to the attack on the Togo national team ahead of the CAF African Cup of Nations in Angola. “Football has been abused as a platform for terrorist purposes. We are in deep shock. But football also brings hope, and it was important to open the tournament as planned. Sport, with its power to spread positives, must be stronger than the criminal element in society.”

The FIFA President then turned his attention to the future: “The year 2010 promises to provide us with plenty to enjoy. There’s a proverb which runs: make time for your friends, or time will take your friends. That’s why we gather in the spirit of friendship. My wish for you all is that the new year brings what you wish. Let us join forces and accept responsibility for protecting the positive values conveyed by football, and shape a better future together.”

Peter Sauber is a proven subscriber to precisely that ethic. He and his racing team are set for a Formula 1 comeback in 2010, after he resumed control of the organisation following BMW’s decision to quit the sport. “It means we’ve been able to retain our base in Hinwil and most of the workforce,” explained Sauber. “Last season, BMW finished sixth in the constructors' world championship. We’d like to repeat that, even on our reduced budget.”

Swiss football can look back on an exceptionally positive 2009. The senior team successfully qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, and the U-17 juniors caused a genuine sensation by winning the FIFA World Cup for their age group in Nigeria. Coach Dany Ryser reviewed the tournament with some gratification: “Winning the World Cup is unforgettable and makes me very proud. The four weeks I spent with my team have left behind an indelible impression,” declared the coach, who succeeded in forming a unit out of players with roots in 13 different countries. “Football is exemplary at cultural integration, and can be a role model for society as a whole,” stated Ryser, who was then warmly praised by Ottmar Hitzfeld.

“The U-17s played as a truly united team and were always perfectly prepared by their coach. Huge compliments to Dany Ryser, who in my opinion set the bar very high,” the Switzerland head coach grinned, before discussing the forthcoming challenges in 2010 with quiet confidence. “Once you’ve made it to a World Cup, your goal is to perform beyond your normal capabilities and achieve as much as you possibly can. I do believe we can play a decent role at the World Cup in South Africa. You always have to set your sights high, and nurture a dream.”

At the conclusion to a successful evening, councillor Gerold Lauber of the Zurich municipal school and sports department took to the microphone. “It is impossible to overstate our appreciation of having FIFA based here in Zurich. It’s something we’re extremely proud of.” Lauber praised the world governing body’s social commitment to grassroots sport, accepting a cheque for 50,000 CHF in support of a sports vacation facility for children.