On Thursday 14 June, Uruguay, one of the planet’s legendary football nations, welcomed FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter for a two-day visit which featured various planned activities, including the official opening of an artificial pitch at the Uruguay Celeste Elite Training Centre and the awarding of the FIFA Order of Merit to national coach Oscar Tabarez.
Football has undergone something of a rebirth in Uruguay over the last couple of years, a period during which the national side were crowned continental champions by lifting the 2011 Copa America, and Los Charrúas currently sit in a remarkable second spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
It was with this new spirit of optimism that Uruguayan fans rolled out the red carpet for the head of football’s governing body, who first paid a visit to Nueva Helvecia, situated some 120 kilometres from Montevideo, to join in the Swiss settlement’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
Accompanied by – among others – Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) president Sebastian Bauza, CONMEBOL vice-president Eugenio Figueredo, Swiss ambassador Hans-Ruedi Bortis and Minister of Tourism and Sport Liliam Kechichian, the FIFA President enjoyed the event alongside members of the local community who, dressed in typical Swiss costume, delighted everyone present with some traditional Swiss dances.
“I’m very touched by the welcome I’ve received; it’s gone straight to my heart,” said President Blatter who stressed the fact that “football and youth are the crux of these festivities”.
Before travelling to Montevideo to attend a dinner with the AUF’s executive committee, the head of FIFA also greeted and chatted with Cristian Rodriguez and Diego Godin, members of the Uruguayan squad that had beaten Peru in a 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying match a few days before.
After finding out the latest on the condition of former Uruguay international Alcides Ghiggia – who was recently involved in a serious traffic accident – President Blatter took part in the AUF meeting, where he was joined by the highest authorities of Uruguayan football, as well as by the chairmen of the 16 clubs that make up the country’s Primera Division.
Following a minute of silence in honour of Carlos Maresca, the former AUF president who passed away recently, football took centre stage, and it was at this point that the FIFA President congratulated those in charge for the great work completed so far.
“Aside from maintaining the excellent level at which the national team are playing, football development remains a priority. Especially in women’s football, as demonstrated by the national team’s first appearance at the upcoming FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup,” he said, prior to receiving a small replica of the Estadio Centenario, the stadium that hosted the first-ever FIFA World Cup Final in 1930.
The time then came to move on to the Uruguay Celeste Elite Training Centre, where Uruguayan national sides stay in preparation for matches. Once there, President Blatter opened the artificial pitch, the funding for which was provided by the FIFA 'Win in CONMEBOL with CONMEBOL' programme, before meeting national coach Oscar Tabarez, in order to award him the FIFA Order of Merit on behalf of the FIFA Congress.
“It’s a source of pride and honour to be able to present you with the Order of Merit for your exceptional career,” Blatter told El Maestro Tabarez, who had been unable to accept the accolade in Budapest due to sporting commitments.
This proved to be the last task scheduled before the official lunch with the wider football family, who were honoured to be joined by Uruguayan president Jose Mujica, in what turned out to be, according to the FIFA President, “a clear signal of support for football”.
The President of world football's governing body will conclude his South American tour on Saturday 16 June with a visit to Chile, where celebrations are under way to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1962 FIFA World Cup.