Following the 67th CONMEBOL Ordinary Congress in Santiago, Chile, FIFA President Gianni Infantino kicked off his visit to several neighbouring countries in the CONCACAF region by attending two matches on the opening day of FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Nassau, the Bahamas.
At the ninth edition of the competition, he joined FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura and Deputy Secretary General Zvonomir Boban at the Nigeria vs Italy and the Bahamas vs Switzerland matches and met with teams and coaches participating in the tournament. He also met with President of the Bahamas Football Association (BFA), Anton Sealey and the Honourable Dr. Daniel Johnson, Minister for Youth, Sports and Culture to congratulate them on the successful opening of the Caribbean’s first ever FIFA World Cup competition, and to discuss the important legacy beach soccer will leave not only in the Bahamas, but across the region.
Following his visit to Nassau, President Infantino travelled to the Dominican Republic accompanied by Zvonomir Boban, CONCACAF President and FIFA Vice-President Victor Montagliani and CONCACAF Secretary General Philippe Moggio. After a meeting with President of Federación Dominicana de Fútbol (FEDOFUT) Osiris Guzman, the Félix Sánchez Olympic Stadium was the next stop, where over 300 schoolchildren from the country’s 32 regional football associations performed a special display of their football skills for the FIFA delegation. Much to the delight of the children, Gianni Infantino joined them on the pitch after their display to take some all-important selfies.
A visit to the Minister of Sports and Recreation Danilo Díaz was next on the agenda, and improving access to football in schools through enhancing the game’s infrastructure in the Dominican Republic was central to discussions. This was followed by a visit to the President of the Dominican Olympic Committee Luis Mejía Oviedo, and a special event organised by FEDOFUT entitled Centenario del Fútbol, a celebration of 100 years of football in the country.
Speaking at the event President Infantino said: “I am delighted to be here to see the wonderful strides football has made in the Dominican Republic. I commend FEDOFUT for its commitment to expanding the game through grassroots national youth leagues and I encourage you to continue making football accessible to more women and the disabled.”
He also voiced his support for FEDOFUT’s Escuela de Talentos project, which will see hundreds of children across the Dominican Republic play football supported by coaches and regional associations.
After his journey to the Dominican Republic, President Infantino travelled to Puerto Rico and following a meeting with Federación Puertorriqueña de Fútbol’s (FPF) President Eric Labrador, and Sports and Recreation Secretary Andrés Waldemar Volmar Méndez, the FIFA delegation met with Governor of Puerto Rico, the Honourable Ricardo Rosselló Nevares at his official residence. Their discussions notably focused on expanding accessibility to football across the country and encouraging more women to participate in the game.
The FPF’s Technical Centre was the next destination for the FIFA delegation, and there they received a very enthusiastic welcome from over 150 children, including the National U-15 boys and girls teams. Pictures and selfies were of course the order of the day, and after the young players had their photos taken, Zvonomir Boban provided them with some hands-on football advice. The delegation then made its way to the headquarters of the FPF to meet with staff and took part in a special event to present coaching licences to recently qualified football coaches. They also presented kits and uniforms to the National U-20 women’s football team and spoke to them about FIFA’s commitment to making the game more accessible to girls and women.
Developing grassroots football to encourage more boys and girls to take part in the game was a key topic of discussion throughout the FIFA President’s visit to the CONCACAF region. Upon arrival in Haiti, the FIFA delegation saw the power of grassroots football in action when a cortege of 300 young boys and girls, all from grassroots football projects across Haiti, and keen to show the FIFA President their dribbling and passing skills, greeted them with great excitement.
As the FIFA visitors made their way to the Fédération Haïtienne de Football’s (FHF) newly refurbished Technical Centre, they were ‘chaperoned’ by this special football cortege and a band with singers. Excitement reached fever pitch among the kids as Gianni Infantino joined them, dribbling and passing footballs over and back to the children.
At the Technical Centre, the FIFA President presented the President of the FHF, Yves Jean-Bart, with a solidarity cheque of $500,000 to assist the federation in the re-building 6 football pitches destroyed by Hurricane Matthew last October. Following the ceremony, Gianni Infantino was presented with the keys of the municipality as well as a personalised national team shirt.
Still delighted and excited by their FIFA visitors, the cortege of young children accompanied Gianni Infantino and his delegation throughout the Haitian FA’s Technical Centre, continuing to play football along the way. Following this emotional visit, Gianni Infantino travelled to Haiti’s Presidential Palace, where he had a private audience with the country’s President Jovenel Moïse, followed by a joint press conference.
Cuba was the last leg on Gianni Infantino’s visit to the CONCACAF region and there, Cuban Olympic Committee President and national legend José Ramón Fernandez, and President of the Asociación de Fútbol de Cuba (AFC), Luis Hernandez, greeted him upon arrival. Following a meeting with the local football authorities, the FIFA President visited the recently installed Terreno de Polar artificial turf pitch, a project funded by FIFA Forward, where he kicked off a league game for the local girls U-17 team. After the match, he congratulated the players and complimented the AFC on its motivation to provide increased access to football for boys and girls who wish to play the beautiful game in Cuba.