Nine months on from the devastating earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter today went visited the Matsushima Football Centre, which has been restored with the help of FIFA. This impressive restoration formed part of the assistance provided by world football’s governing body to the Japanese football community following the March disaster.
Before heading to Matsushima, the FIFA delegation – which also included also acting AFC President Zhang Jilong and Guam FA President Richard K. Lai, together with a JFA delegation, led by its President Junji Ogura - stopped in Yuriage, Natori-City, close to Sendai, an area devastated by the tsunami. There, they observed a moment of silence to pay tribute to the victims of the tragedy.
Ogura, speaking later, during a press briefing at the Matsushima Football Centre, said: “As today’s visit by the FIFA President indicates, the global football family is praying for the recovery of the people in Tohoku and looking forward to reconfirming the friendship and ties with you all through the beautiful game of football. It is my sincere wish that the Matsushima Football Centre becomes a symbol of the recovery of Tohoku, contributing to the local promotion of sport for many years to come.”
Overall, FIFA has donated a total of 6.4 million USD to Japan, assistance which has included several Goal projects. The Japanese FA (JFA) had benefitted in the past from three Goal projects, all of which were installed at the medical centre in the J Village in Fukushima - inaugurated by the FIFA President in 2009 - which was damaged by the March disaster. FIFA subsequently decided to grant the JFA three new Goal projects (worth 1.5 million USD in total).
Furthermore, a fourth Goal project was allocated to the JFA in October 2010. It was planned to be used for the purchase of more equipment for the medical centre, but the disaster struck before this project could be realised. Therefore, this fourth Goal project was amended to focus on the restoration of the Football Turf field at the Matsushima Football Centre.
The FIFA donation will enable the Japanese football community to complete a six-project plan:
- the restoration of the football turf field at the Matsushima Football Centre, as well as the renovation and expansion of this facility
- the construction of a new Football Centre in Iwate Prefecture
- the construction of a new Football Centre in Fukushima Prefecture
- the restoration of a football turf field in Sendai City
- the restoration of a natural grass field in Mito City
- the restoration of the security camera system in the stadium of Kashima City, which hosted matches at the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2002 FIFA World Cup
Additionally, FIFA’s partner adidas donated 15,000 football kits to the JFA for distribution to the areas with most need after the disaster. At the same time, FIFA also donated 15,000 adidas Goal balls.
Today’s programme at the Matsushima Football Centre started with a round-table discussion involving J. League Chairman Kazumi Ohigashi, representatives from the public authorities, J. League football clubs and prefectural football associations. They related to the FIFA President the damages suffered and explained details of the various assistance projects.
Blatter was then invited to join on the pitch a group of 200 young players from clubs of the region. He told them: "It's a great pleasure to be with you today. But more important is that you are here and playing football on a very good pitch. A few months ago you have been affected by a disaster. But now you're back on the field of play. When you play, you're not alone, you're with others, connecting with people. Football is discipline, respect and fair play as you have shown on the pitch just now. But you have also shown that football is hope. The game is yours because the future is yours. Together, let's look forward to a better future. Go forward, play football, enjoy the game and, don't forget, enjoy life!”
After handing over adidas balls to the children - a gesture which prompted them to say a loud "arigato gozaimasu" (thank you very much in Japanese) in unison - the FIFA President joined them for a group picture in front of a banner, which read: ‘To our friends around the world, thank you for your support’. This was identical to the one displayed in Germany by the victorious Japan team at the FIFA Women's World Cup.
The event concluded with a press briefing, in which the FIFA President stated: "I can tell you that the FIFA delegation experienced many emotions today. When we landed in Sendai and witnessed the damage caused by the tsunami, it was very moving. But at the football centre, we were very happy to witness life, life through football.
"When such a disaster happens, it is not enough to help financially. You have to show confidence. We have said to Japan: 'We are behind you and we are with you'. Therefore, only a few weeks after the tragedy, we confirmed that the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup would be held in Japan as scheduled. I came in May to Japan and met the Prime Minister at the time. And then, something wonderful happened: Japan won the FIFA Women's World Cup. Really, football here is hope."
Asked by a journalist if Sendai or Ibaraki could host games at the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup, Blatter replied: "I think that is an extremely interesting proposal. I am totally in favour."