FIFA's inaugural Development Award has been presented to Palestine, whose new Ram stadium, which also includes a technical centre, was inaugurated on 26 October by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, with a number of prominent figures in attendance.
This FIFA award is designed to demonstrate the significant amount of effort and financial support which go into furthering development in those countries which need it the most. This vital work, which so often goes unheralded, enables lesser lights on the footballing scene such as Venezuela, St. Kitts and Nevis, Malawi and Mozambique - who recently reached the third phase of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ - to progress and show that they deserve their place on the world stage.
The FIFA President explained that the Palestinian Football Association was receiving the award "in recognition of the difficult task that it had accomplished in keeping football alive and also for its work with FIFA in building the first international-standard stadium in the West Bank, as well as organising the now famous match between Palestine and Jordan in October 2008".
The Al-Husseini stadium at Al-Ram near Ramallah has been significantly renovated. An international standard state-of-the-art artificial pitch has been laid, the West stand has had its capacity increased and a new stand has also been built on the east side. Underneath the West stand, the Palestinian FA is currently setting out its offices, while the East stand will also house technical centre offices, dormitories and classrooms. These will provide the FA with a fully functional technical centre for its national teams to train at as well as a venue for coaching and refereeing courses.
On 26 October last year, Palestine hosted their first international match at home since becoming affiliated to FIFA in 1998. Previously, they did not have a pitch up to international standards and had to play their "home" matches outside the country, either in Jordan or Qatar.
As far as FIFA is concerned, it is essential that a member association play its home matches on its own soil. This is why world football's governing body also made great efforts to ensure that this was the case for Israel a few years ago, despite the situation being far from ideal.
This time, FIFA took the initiative of helping to renovate the first stadium that met the required standards, enabling Palestine to host an international match. "The aim of football is not only to put the ball in the net, but to touch the world and build a better future," said Joseph S. Blatter at the inauguration of the stadium, where Palestine and Jordan fittingly played out a 1-1 draw.