President aims to awaken 'sleeping giant'

In the company of the AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam, Joseph S. Blatter commenced his official visit to India on 14 April. After kicking off in Calcutta, they headed off again on the morning of Monday 16 April for the capital New Delhi.

The first stage of the visit provided the President with an early indication of the Indian people's enthusiasm for the beautiful game. On Sunday morning, the FIFA delegation was able to put its finger on the pulse beat with a visit to the region's three biggest clubs. A dense and enthusiastic crowd braved the sweltering sun to line the streets, squeeze onto balconies and clamber atop any available vantage point to get a clear view of the FIFA party.

At the Mohun Bagan club, President Blatter carried out the symbolic planting of a small tree to mark his historic visit. "Football in India could have had a brilliant past, but now it needs to lay the foundations for a brilliant future," he repeated at various meeting throughout the day. "It's a bit like waking up a sleeping giant." In India for the first time, Blatter expressed the hope that his brief presence would mark the awakening of a whole nation to high-level football, professional as well as amateur.

At the end of the day, the two presidents and their delegations attended the National Football League derby match between Mohun and East Bengal at the huge Salt Lake stadium. The two men did a full circuit of the stadium to salute the spectators, who responded with a thunder of applause and a joyous clamour: the emotion was truly at fever pitch. "What I've seen today is really promising, but there remains a great deal to be done to reach international standards," declared a satisfied President Blatter after the match. Mohamed Bin Hammam, meanwhile, stated that "football needs to be better organised, both in terms of infrastructure and human resources."

That evening, after the press conference, a banquet was organised by the Governor of Calcutta. Around the President, the greatest names from the history of Indian football gathered to receive India's 'Honour of Excellence' medal as a reward for their past exploits. It was a night to remember for everyone involved.

After a short night's sleep to recover from a demanding first day, the President and his party set off for New Delhi the following morning. The Indian President Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held separate audiences with the two visiting football presidents, accompanied by their AIFF counterpart, Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi. 'Give us the inspiration of football' was the substance of the philosophy-laden message addressed to the governing body of the world's favourite sport by the Indian President, who is highly committed to the idea of raising football's profile further in India.

At the official dinner, the President and the delegation had a special message for the representatives from business and industry. "You have a basis for making progress in this sport but, in order to do so, football needs partners such as yourselves," Mohamed Bin Hammam explained. "You have the chance to work with us to stimulate football in your country, which is in your interests and that of the youth of the country," President Blatter concluded.

The official visit continues until Wednesday 18 April.