Belize is a former British colony that achieved its independence on 21 September 1981. Situated on Central America’s Caribbean coast, it covers an area of only 22,966 km² and has a population of around 375,000.
Joseph S. Blatter and the rest of the FIFA delegation touched down at the country’s international airport early on Wednesday afternoon, and were greeted by the President of the Belizean Football Association, Bertie Chimilio, who is also a member of the FIFA Appeal Committee.
Accompanied by Mr Chimilio, the FIFA delegation then sped off to Belize City, where Blatter paid a courtesy visit to the Prime Minister, Dean O. Barrow. “It is a privilege to welcome the head of the world’s biggest sport,” said Barrow, who discussed the development of football with Blatter and its social role.
The FIFA President then journeyed on to the capital Belmopan to open new facilities at the national FA’s headquarters and academy, where stands, dressing rooms and other public facilities have been built thanks to phase two of the country’s Goal Project. The ceremony began with an a capella rendition of the national anthem, after which Blatter cut the tape in the presence of Mr Chimilio and Rafael Salguero, a member of the FIFA and CONCACAF Executive Committees.
“We have our home of football thanks to FIFA and the completion of this Goal Project,” said Chimilio to an audience including several of the country’s leading sports personalities and political representatives.
“‘Goal’ also means ‘objective’, and it’s always a great pleasure to inaugurate projects,” said Blatter. “One of FIFA’s major objectives is to play its part in building a better future through football.”
The FIFA delegation’s one-day stay in Belize then ended with an informal meeting between those present at the opening ceremony.
Football, education and development
Before the day was out Blatter had moved on to Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, with a population of nearly 6,000,000 and covering an area 130,373.5 km². Waiting to greet him on his arrival was the President of the Nicaraguan Football Association (FENIFUT), Julio Rocha.
The FIFA President’s official duties began early on Thursday with a visit to the National Stadium in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, where he unveiled three plaques to mark the completion of phase one of the construction of the stadium and the national teams’ academy. FIFA has lent support to the construction work through its Goal projects.
“This work is only the start,” said Mr Rocha. “Soon this will be a reality and become Nicaragua’s home of football. I would like to thank all the organisations involved in this project.”
Addressing an audience that included the national men’s and women’s teams and young boys and girls from local schools, Blatter said: “I feel honoured to see the development of a project that deserves praise from the football world. The teamwork being carried out here bolsters the well-being of football in particular and of society in general.”
The FIFA President’s programme continued with a visit to the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), which donated 100 hectares of land to the project. There he was presented with the university’s shield, a sun surrounded by eight stars symbolising the institution’s eight founding professors.
“The university is more than just a seat of learning,” said its Vice-Chancellor, Elmer Cisneros Moreira. “It provides an education in all areas, and that includes football.” Voicing his agreement, Blatter added: “It is important that football be given a role in universities as a school of life.”
The delegation then moved on to Managua City Hall, where the head of world football’s governing body met with the Mayor of Managua, Daysi Torres, who officially declared him a Distinguished Guest of the City. Blatter then spoke of the significant educational role football has to play and the benefits this has for society.
After holding a press conference, the FIFA President then set off for a meeting with the President of Nicaragua, Commander Jose Daniel Ortega Saavedra, who welcomed him at the House of the People, where he typically receives official guests.
“Sport nourishes young people and is essential to education,” commented Mr Ortega. “Although baseball is No1 here, more and more people are watching and playing football, and the national association can count on our support for its continued development.”