FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun at a ceremony at the Japanese Embassy in Berne on Tuesday. The presentation was made by Japan's ambassador to Switzerland, Mr Ichiro Komatsu, acting on behalf of Emperor Akihito.
A highly distinguished honour for both Blatter and world football's governing body, the Order of the Rising Sun is Japan's oldest national decoration and came into being in 1875. To add to the sense of occasion, the ceremony took place on the 88th anniversary of the foundation of the Japanese Football Association.
Established by Emperor Meiji, the prestigious Order comprises several different classes. Only 23 people, a distinguished group that includes figures from both around the world and Japan, have ever been presented with the highest of the classes, the Grand Cordon. And it was this honour that Mr Komatsu bestowed upon the FIFA President.
The ceremony was attended by a select group of guests. Among them were Motoaki Inukai, the Chairman of the Japanese FA, and Shunichiro Okano, a former chairman of the Japanese FA and an ex-international and current IOC member, who were joined by Blatter's daughter, two brothers and a number of political and sporting figures from his home canton of Valais, not to mention UEFA President Michel Platini.
"President Blatter has always endeavoured to help Japan with the development of its football," said Mr Komatsu in his speech. "First of all he proposed that Japan should host the 1979 U-20 World Cup, and then in 1996, when he was General Secretary, he supported Japan's joint bid with Korea to host the World Cup. Finally, between 2005 and 2008, our country also hosted the FIFA Club World Cup. Together all these tournaments have helped Japan gain recognition and appreciation the world over and have also helped football increase its popularity."
Eastern journey for Blatter
After taking receipt of the diploma accompanying the Order and raising his glass in a toast, Blatter thanked the ambassador and asked him to pass on his regards to the Emperor. "I am absolutely delighted and I would like to thank you for this great honour, which is for the whole of FIFA," he said.
"As part of its global mission to develop the game and bring people together, FIFA has always seen Japan as a quintessential footballing country," he continued. "Today we celebrate the ongoing progress being made by Japanese football across all age groups and through its stakeholders and leaders, as well as the clubs taking part in the highly professional J-League and the players now making a name for themselves in Europe's major leagues. We also celebrate the universal values of football: solidarity, fair play and friendship between peoples and nations. Those are the values that have brought us here in a spirit of excitement and sport."
On Sunday, the FIFA President embarks on a tour of Japan, where he will take part in a celebration for the award of the Order of the Rising Sun, hosted by Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado. As part of his trip Blatter will open the JFA's new medical centre, a Goal project that began in 2008, and then visit one of the JFA's football academies before heading off to Thailand, where he faces an equally hectic schedule: the opening of a centre in Phuket to commemorate the 2004 tsunami and the opening of a national training centre, another Goal project, in Bangkok.