Visiting Manaus to see the Arena Amazonia up close, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke became the first foreign passenger in a programme offering free English and Spanish courses to taxi drivers in the state capital city. The aim is to enable drivers to welcome fans coming to Manaus during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.

Accompanied by the Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Sports, Luis Fernandes, and Local Organising Committee (LOC) CEO Ricardo Trade, Jérôme Valcke toured the Ponta Negra tourist complex, location of the FIFA Fan Fest for the 2014 World Cup. Behind the wheel in the Secretary General's taxi was Francisco Airton, a member of the first class of the project run in partnership between Manaus city hall and the Amazonas state government.

“It gives me enormous pride," Airton said, along with Janilson and Israel - two other taxi drivers chosen to represent the first class of the course. "I'm practising to get my English better by June and show the people coming here to enjoy the World Cup all the tourist spots that Manaus has to offer. I want to carry on studying to learn more and more."

After visiting Ponta Negra, the delegation moved on to the Arena Amazonia, where they were welcomed by the Mayor of Manaus Arthur Virgilio Neto and Amazonas state deputy governor Jose Melo. At the stadium, which will host four World Cup matches, the group met with local officials before heading down to the pitch, which was followed by a joint press conference.

Here are some of the main excerpts from the press conference:

Jérôme Valcke, FIFA Secretary General
“A year ago there were questions about whether Manaus would be ready or not; we were asking ourselves why we had come here, as it was so hot... That's why it's really good to be in Manaus and see what great work has been done here. This is where one of the main FIFA World Cup games will be held – England vs. Italy – which, although it's never happened, could so easily be a final. One of the biggest games you could hope for.”

“Manaus should also be congratulated on its Fan Fest. The venue is fantastic and will be able to welcome thousands of people across the 64 games. It will be a place to party. The Fan Fest is part of the FIFA World Cup. It's a venue where not just those with tickets or those watching on TV at home can come and take part in this great event. It would be a shame if a city didn't have a Fan Fest, because it will be the fans who end up losing out.”

Luis Fernandes, Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Sports
“The message that we can send out from here at the Arena Amazonia is one of pride. Not only for the people of Manaus and Amazonas state, but for Brazil. Here we have overcome doubts and scepticisms and now we feel that we can deliver. This feeling of pride is what will dominate at the World Cup.”

Arthur Virgilio Neto, Mayor of Manaus
“Manaus might well have the most beautiful stadium in the country, proving that it can aspire to have a great industry for event tourism. It might not be the case for other countries, but for Brazil, hosting a World Cup is something of extreme importance. Even more so for Manaus.”

Jose Melo, Amazonas state deputy governor
“One of the great legacies of the World Cup for Amazonas is the investment made in public security, not just in bolstering the number of personnel but also in technical equipment, to make Manaus one of the safest state capitals in the country.”