FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter began a lengthy tour of Central America on Sunday, making his first stop in Guatemala, where he met with several leading dignitaries and attended the final day of the U-20 CONCACAF Championship.
Guatemala joined world football’s governing body in 1946 and hosted the inaugural FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2000. Eleven years on from that event, it extended a warm welcome to the visiting FIFA delegation through Jack Warner, FIFA vice-president and CONCACAF President, Rafael Salguero, a member of the FIFA and CONCACAF Executive Committees, and various members of the Guatemalan Football Association (FEDEFUTGUATE).
Warner then joined the FIFA President in presenting Mexico with the trophy as U-20 CONCACAF champions, all this after they had watched hosts Guatemala beat Panama on penalties in the match for third place earlier in the day. Despite missing out on a place in the final, the Guatemalans had every reason to be delighted, having clinched a berth at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, the first time they have qualified for the finals.
Then it was on the main event of the day at the Presidential Palace, where the President of Guatemala Alvaro Colom welcomed the delegation for an official dinner and took the opportunity to conduct a 15-minute chat with Blatter for his weekly television programme beforehand. “It was conversation between two presidents on football, a sport that generates a lot of passion here in Guatemala,” said Colom.
During his television appearance, Blatter underlined the values of the world’s most popular sport: “Football is more than a game. It is an education in life, a social phenomenon that brings people together.” Voicing his agreement, Colom said that football has to make the most of its characteristics as an inexpensive and easy game to play so that as many people as possible can benefit from its social attributes.
A force for good
In 1996 the 36-year civil war that had riven football-loving Guatemala finally came to an end. As a symbol of that historic moment, the Changing of the Rose of Peace is an event of huge importance for the country, with the FIFA President making his way to the National Palace of Culture on Monday morning to participate in the ceremony and receive the title of Messenger of Peace. “It is a real honour for me to take part in a ceremony such as this,” he commented. “I would like to take this opportunity to underline the role football has to play as an instrument for maintaining peace.”
From there Blatter, in the company of Salguero, moved on to the national congress building, where the representative Carlos Gordillo, the President of the Sports Commission, spoke of the economic, political and social roles that football plays in Guatemala. For his part, Blatter highlighted the educational and social values of football, which seeks to erase social differences.
Finally, after visiting Guatemala City’s town hall in the company of Mayor Alvaro Arzu and his wife Patricia Arzu, the FIFA President was made a guest of honour of the city before moving on to the headquarters of the national FA in the company of FEDEFUTGUATE President Bryan Jimenez. As well inspecting the centre’s football pitches, Blatter chatted to boys and girls playing there before setting off for the national team hotel, which was built thanks to the country’s Goal Project, phase four of which is yet to start.
Prior to his departure Blatter had some very warm words for the Guatemalan football family, and also thanked local journalists for the plaque presented to him by the National Association of Sportswriters. “I wish Guatemala and its people in particular a future filled with sunshine, good health and harmony through football and peace.”