FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter has embarked on a tour of Asia this week. His first destination was Timor-Leste, whose national football association was affiliated to FIFA in 2005.
Comprising two islets and the eastern half of an island it shares with Indonesia, Timor-Leste has a surface area of 15,410 sq km and is situated some 700 km off the north-east coast of Australia.
Arriving in the capital of Dili on Monday, Blatter was greeted by President Jose Ramos-Horta, who told him: “Our government is giving its support to young people in general and to sport in particular. Our youngsters are very committed to sport.”
“This is my first trip to Timor-Leste, a relatively new member of FIFA,” replied the President of world football’s governing body. “Your country is receiving the support of FIFA and will continue to do so. Our motto in this respect is a simple one: ‘Some countries may be little, but there is no such thing as a little associate member’."
As proof of that backing, Timor-Leste last year hosted its first FIFA refereeing and coaching courses.
A big draw in Cambodia
A former Portuguese colony, Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia nearly nine years ago. One of the poorest countries in Asia, it has a population of around one million, most of which is concentrated in Dili.
Football is very popular among the Timorese and the nation’s maiden international matches against Sri Lanka and Chinese Taipei in March 2003, both of which they lost, attracted huge interest across the country. Timor-Leste avoided defeat for the first time in October 2008, when they drew 2-2 with Cambodia, a landmark achievement for the national side.
Continuing its visit, the FIFA delegation then met with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. “This is a very sporty country and everyone loves football,” he told his guests. “That is why our government is promoting physical education and sport, to support young people.”
Voicing his agreement, Blatter had this to say: “FIFA is lending its support to the national FA through the Goal projects and to the bespoke Performance programme.”
Thanks to Performance, a FIFA football management programme, Timor-Leste received information technology resources and assistance during the course of 2010.
Timor-Leste has already benefited from two Goal projects and a third is about to get underway. The first began in 2006 and involved the construction of the Timorese FA’s headquarters in Dili, an essential first step in the development of the country’s footballing infrastructure.
As a result of the second project, which was set in motion in June 2009, a football academy was built next to the FA offices, an indication of the ongoing growth of the game in Timor-Leste.
The academy comprises accommodation facilities, classrooms, a canteen and a sports centre, and both it and the FA offices were officially opened by Blatter on Monday. The first stone was also laid for the third of the three Goal projects: the installation of an artificial pitch for Timor-Leste’s national teams, who have been unable to train due to the state of the grass pitches.
“I am honoured to be here for the first time and am delighted to see that the FA is working very hard and in a coherent manner in promoting the game of football,” said the FIFA President at the ceremony. “In doing so, it is providing young people with educational resources, which are crucial.”
On Tuesday Blatter gave a speech to the Timorese parliament, and was presented with an honorary title. After giving a press conference, he then left Timor-Leste for Myanmar, the second stop on his Asian tour.