Guatemala: Futsal against drugs and violence
Guatemala will host the 4th FIFA Futsal World Championship from 18 November to 3 December 2000. Futsal is incredibly popular in the Central American republic and plays a major role in keeping youngsters away from drugs and crime.
Rafael Tinoco, the president of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the FIFA Futsal World Championship Guatemala 2000 is a man with a relaxed and satisfied appearance. "Preparations for this big event are well under way," he says. Behind this positive statement is the fact that Tinoco and his team are getting lots of support from every side. "The whole country is proud to be hosting the tournament. There is a very high level of public interest here, and a strong desire on the part of our people to show the world that even a small nation is capable of organising and running a major event perfectly. I am convinced that the Futsal World Championship will be a success."
Alfonso Portillo, newly elected as the country's president last December, is also fully behind the competition and has assured the LOC of his total support. As a keen football fan himself he is delighted that Guatemala can again host an international sporting event. So far it has only happened once before; that was when the world's best marksmen assembled here for the World Shooting Championships.
The Futsal World Championship is of great importance to Guatemala. It is hoped that the event will give a boost to the country's industry, business and tourist trade. The nation is in need of foreign currency as Tinoco explains, but also needs a challenge and motivation. In the little republic, which is divided into 22 departments, there is an atmosphere of a new beginning. After 36 years of civil war that ended when a peace settlement was signed on 29 December 1996, the ten million inhabitants are looking forward to a better future. But the path will be a difficult one. About half of the population still live below the poverty line, somewhere between 30% and 45% of the men are unemployed and the country has the highest illiteracy rate in Latin America at around 44%. But their good faith is unshaken and they are full of hope for a better future. However their patience has had to survive a number of severe tests, the latest being the hurricane "Mitch" at the end of October 1998, which swept across that part of Central America bringing destruction, misery, a sense of hopelessness and tears into the lives of tens of thousands.
But the badly-shaken nation wants to put all this behind it and gear itself to the future, which is why the Futsal World Championship of great significance. In Guatemala City, which with its suburbs is home to about 30% of the population, modern hotels, attractive shopping centres and huge office blocks are going up. Guatemala has long been a popular destination for trekking holidays on account of its wonderful landscapes and wants to present a clean appearance, to the football world at least, at the end of the year. "Most people on the planet do not even know where Guatemala is, what it's like or what we have to offer," says Tinoco. "Via the Futsal World Championship we hope to correct that situation."
Football against criminality
There are countless competitions going on all the time, and there is also a league but curiously enough it allows only teams composed of waiters. It is not unusual to see a game kick off at eight o'clock in the morning, and there is strict adherence to FIFA rules. Tinoco and his co-workers are finding a big response among the nation's children - from the age of seven there are championships for them - and young people. Tinoco also notes that the sport has a social function: "Alcohol and drugs are serious problems in Guatemalan society. We are trying via futsal to draw in many children off the streets and to keep them out of the clutches of drugs and criminality." Looking after the youngsters one often finds former top level players. And it is not without pride that Tinoco mentions that Guatemala's only player currently engaged with a foreign club - midfielder Martin Machon who is with Santos in Mexico - first learned his football skills in futsal.
The country's women are also involved in the game. While there were no women playing football at all here ten years ago, Tinoco can now say, "It was futsal that brought the women's game to Guatemala," and his eyes light up. Today the Guatemalan women's team are Central American Champions.
Worthy of champions too are the two modern indoor stadiums in Guatemala City, in which the World Championship will be played. In Guatemala 2000 there is room for 7500 spectators and the Hyatt Hotel can take 3500. Close to the playing areas there are swimming pools, tennis courts, cinemas and boutiques. Tinoco is convinced that the two halls will be well filled during the competition next December.
The group draw will take place in August and the president of the LOC is also optimistic about the tournament's financial success. The overall budget was 4.5 million USD, of which 2.5 million was invested in renovation of the two halls. Everyone wishes Guatemala success in this enterprise.