The main event at the 51st Ordinary Congress in Paris on 7/8 June this year was of course the election of Joseph S. Blatter as the new President of FIFA. In addition, 12 FIFA Orders of Merit in Gold were awarded, and details about the recipients and their services to the game are presented below.
It is fair to say that no-one has done more to accelerate the development and popularity of women's football than Michelle Akers.
An exceptional player whose direct, powerful style and prolific scoring-rate brought her to the attention of the football world especially at the first Women's World Cup in 1991, she has been an exemplary ambassador for the sport for the best part of a decade and a role model for aspiring young players.
Winner of over 110 caps for her country, often as captain, she is also the all-time US top goal-scorer. She has played club football in Sweden as well as for the University of Central Florida and for Tampa Bay Extreme.
The highlights of her career have been the gold medals she won at the 1991 Women's World Cup and the 1996 Olympic Women's Football Tournament.
This success has come despite having to battle against chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition for which she has launched her own personal fund on behalf of fellow-sufferers.
After her many awards and honours, FIFA has the pleasure of presenting the Order of Merit to the outstanding representative of women's football, Michelle Akers.
LARBI BEN BAREK
If he had benefitted from the level of media attention given to today's top players, Larbi Ben Barek would surely be an even greater household name.
The first great African star and the first to bear the nickname of "Black Pearl", Ben Barek blazed a trail to the European, and particularly French, leagues. Born in Morocco on June 16, 1917, he arrived in Marseilles at the age of 20, and became an instant favourite with the fans for his skill, his vision and his effortless athletic grace.
His career was interrupted by the onset of war but he was soon back to his best with Stade Français and then in Spain, with Atletico Madrid, where he truly blossomed and where his international fame spread.
He returned to Marseilles in 1953, but finished his career never having won a title. One of the finest players ever to represent France, his adopted country, he made 17 appearances for the national team between 1938 and 1948. But his comeback in 1954 against Germany in Hanover was curtailed by an injury after half an hour and proved to be the end of his career.
Larbi Ben Barek, the Black Pearl of Casablanca, died in his home town on 16 September 1992.
When Guillermo Cañedo passed away on 20 January 1997, world football was deprived of one of its most prominent figures.
In this World Cup year, our thoughts inevitably turn once more to this man who master-minded two editions of the World Cup in his native Mexico, in 1970 and 1986, and who from 1992 chaired the FIFA Committee for the Organisation of the World Cup with incomparable knowledge and experience.
Guillermo Cañedo understood, better than most, the importance of the relationship between football and television, not least because of his duties with the Mexican channel, Televisa. This specific knowledge also inspired him to create the FIFA Media Committee, of which he became chairman.
He was closely attached to clubs in his home city, served as chairman of the Mexican Football Federation, and sat on the FIFA Executive Committee from 1962 until his death, at which time he was Senior Vice-President.
Guillermo Cañedo was also a man passionately devoted to his family, to whom he dedicated ever more time in the difficult last stages of his life. For his commitment, his humanity, his personal courage, we honour one of FIFA's most loyal servants : Guillermo Cañedo.
When FIFA held the first Women's World Cup in China in 1991, it was thanks largely to Henry Fok that the event was able to go ahead at all.
Henry Fok has been a patron of Chinese football for the past two or three decades. His support has been not only in the form of financial and political assistance, but even extended to the construction of a fine new stadium for 25,000 spectators in his home town of Panyu, in Guangdong province.
A self-made businessman of influence in Hong Kong, Henry Fok began as a player in the seven-a-side miniature football unique to the former British colony and still enjoys playing the game, as well as tennis, although now well into his seventies.
The President of the Hong Kong Football Association from 1970 to 1997, Dr. Fok was elected a member of the FIFA Executive Committee in 1978 and continued to serve both FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation for a good 20 years, often described even as the dynamo of the AFC. He is an Honorary Member of FIFA.
For his philanthropic assistance to Chinese and Asian football, and for his loyal service to world football for over 20 years, FIFA now confers the Order of Merit on Dr. Henry Fok.
Generally considered to be Brazil's finest-ever goalkeeper, Gilmar was born Gylmar dos Santos Neves on 22 August, 1930.
A tall, elegant and composed figure, clad in the grey jersey that became his trademark, Gilmar was blessed with an exceptional positional sense.
World champion when Brazil first won the Jules Rimet Trophy in Sweden in 1958 and again in Chile in 1962, he was present again in England in 1966.
As the last line of defence in a team where all the spotlight was on the forwards, Gilmar had no rivals for the Brazilian goalkeeper position for over a decade. His uncontested dominance enabled him to amass 94 caps between 1953 and 1969.
At club level, he played for ten years at Corinthians, before joining Pelé in an all-conquering Santos team that twice won the Copa Libertadores and the European-South American Cup.
But it was above all his achievements in Brazil's World Cup teams that earn Gylmar dos Santos Neves the FIFA Order of Merit.
A member of eight FIFA Committees, guiding three of them as Chairman, Julio Grondona has been a central figure of FIFA's decision-making for over a decade.
Born in Buenos Aires, Julio Grondona was quickly immersed in the city's intense football culture, but with divided loyalties. He played for the River Plate youth team but had a secret affection for their rivals Independiente, and yet his first administrative post was as the founder of the Arsenal de Sarandi club in his home town in 1957. When the club gained professional status in 1965, his involvement with the Argentinian Football Association became more extensive.
Julio Grondona took over the professional sector of Independiente in 1964, the year the club won the Copa Libertadores, then in 1976 he became the club president and AFA Treasurer. He was appointed to the national team selection committee shortly before Argentina hosted, and won, the 1978 World Cup. A year later, he was elected President of the AFA, a position he holds to this day.
Julio Grondona's direct involvement with FIFA began with a seat on the Technical Committee, before becoming Vice-President of both CONMEBOL and FIFA in 1988. He currently holds the position of Senior Vice-President of FIFA, in recognition of his long-standing and unfailing dedication to football not only in Argentina and South America, but worldwide.
As a young man, Viacheslav Koloskov divided his energies between his twin passions of football and ice hockey. His love of sports is reflected in his profession as a Director of Physical Education and the distinction of Honoured Worker of Physical Education and Sports.
Fortunately, it was football, and above all the game in Russia, which was to benefit from his integrity, dedication and commitment to progress. President of his national association, he has been a loyal servant to FIFA during a time of ever-increasing expansion and evolution.
He became a FIFA Vice-President in 1980, which signalled the start of almost two decades on the Executive Committee. He has also served FIFA in a variety of other roles, holding the positions of Chairman of the Organising Committee of the Olympic Football Tournaments and Deputy Chairman of the Youth Competitions Committee. He has also distinguished himself in the World Cup Organising Committee and the Security and Fair Play Committee, as well as being Chairman of the Committee for Women's Football.
Thus, with Viacheslav Koloskov, the FIFA Order of Merit goes to a man who has truly given his services to the whole range of football activities.
For 16 years, from 1976 to 1992, South Africa was an outcast from world football society.
The era of the detested policy of apartheid meant, among other consequences, that the country could not participate on a world or even African football stage which it had helped to create when it had been a founder member of the African Football Confederation in 1954.
That this pioneer of African football was able to regain its status as a member of FIFA was due not least to the spirited determination of one man : Nelson Mandela.
This football forum is not necessarily the place to recall Nelson Mandela's long walk to freedom, during which he spent 26 years imprisoned for his beliefs and his campaigning for civil rights.
Let us simply recognise the man whose incomparable will-power not only enabled his country to emerge from those dark years of political, economic and sporting isolation, but whose inspirational leadership helped it to organise, and win, the African Cup of Nations in 1996 and to regain its role as a major force in African and world football.
South Africa's debut in the World Cup finals here in France this year is itself a tribute to the man whom FIFA now honours as a statesman and a friend of football : Nelson Mandela.
SIR BERT MILLICHIP
It was fitting that Sir Bert Millichip's term of office as Chairman of The Football Association should have culminated so successfully with the organisation of the European Championship in England two years ago.
The joyful atmosphere of EURO 96 perfectly captured Sir Bert's own delight in the sunny side of our sport, even if his chairmanship of The F.A., from 1981 to 1996 coincided with some of the most difficult years in the Association's history.
Sir Bert Millichip's formal links with football began in 1950 he was appointed solicitor to West Bromwich Albion, his home-town team in the English Midlands. In 1964 he joined the club's board, was chairman from 1976 to 1983, and since then has been club president.
A member of the UEFA Executive from 1988, he was made a UEFA Honorary Member in 1996. Within FIFA, Sir Bert has been a member of the Organising Committee for the World Cup since 1982. In 1991, he was knighted by the Queen.
On behalf of all those who have enjoyed not only the wisdom but also the typically English good nature of Sir Bert Millichip's company, in the meeting-room, in the stadium, or socially, FIFA is proud to honour Sir Bert Millichip with the Order of Merit.
Stocky and powerful, Gerd Müller might not have looked like an obvious footballer. But it was precisely this compact frame and low centre of gravity, combined with an agility and heading ability that belied his stature, that made him one of the deadliest goal-poachers in football history.
Nicknamed "Der Bomber", Müller often single-handedly won matches for Germany and his beloved Bayern Munich. He was known for his extraordinary courage, tenacity and natural striker's instinct for goal opportunities.
His record has few rivals: World Champion in 1974, top goal-scorer with ten goals in the 1970 World Cup and the cumulative World Cup top scorer with 14, he won the European Cup three times with Bayern in the mid-70s, the European-South America Cup, the European Cup Winners' Cup, four German championships, four German Cups, and was European Player of the Year in 1970. Altogether, he scored 365 goals in 427 Bundesliga matches.
Of his 68 goals in 62 appearances for the national team, his last is perhaps the most famous, swivelling to fire home the winner against Holland in the 1974 World Cup Final in his home Olympic Stadium in Munich.
Plagued by injuries, Müller moved to Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the US in 1970 but returned to Bayern as a youth coach, and is once again a familiar figure in the Olympic Stadium. Today, FIFA honours a goal-scoring legend : Gerd Müller.
FERNAND SASTRE †
Knowing Fernand Sastre as we do, we are sure that he would politely decline any offers of congratulations for the success of France 98.
Firstly, because his experience and wisdom have taught him to await outcomes before taking results for granted. And secondly, because his modesty and his perception have also taught him that such results are built by a team, and not by an individual.
And yet France 98 is Fernand Sastre's life work, surpassing even his leadership of the highly successful European Championship in 1984. It culminates a life dominated by the application of his organisational talents to the cause of French, and international football.
Now 75, Fernand Sastre may look back with satisfaction at a career which reached its first highlight when he served eleven years as President of the French Football Federation, from 1973 to 1984, a period when the FFF was completely re-structured and membership expanded spectacularly. Temporarily withdrawn from mainstream football administration, he returned to lead the campaign which, in 1992, earned France this year's World Cup.
The stress of responsibility has not been without taking its toll. It is therefore with all the greater affection, as well immense respect, that FIFA has the pleasure to confer the Order of Merit upon the co-President of France 98, Fernand Sastre.
The text of this laudatio was delivered five days before Fernand Sastre's death on 13 June.
KARL HEINZ WEIGANG
A pioneer of the FIFA World Football Development Programme when introduced by Joao Havelange in the mid-1970s, Karl Heinz Weigang is a footballing globe-trotter who has brought his tactical and technical expertise and enthusiasm to players in Africa and Asia for more than three decades.
He started teaching and part-time coaching in Sri Lanka, before moving to South Vietnam in 1966, where he remained two years as national team coach. He then turned his attention to developing African football, coaching in Mali, Ghana, Gabon and Senegal over a 24-year period interrupted only by a spell in Malaysia. Between 1982 and 1986 he took charge of the formidable Cameroon U-16 and U-19 teams and the Canon Yaoundé club, including many young players destined for international recognition.
He then returned to Vietnam to pursue a goal close to his heart, playing a vital role in the construction of the national team for another three years.
Karl Heinz Weigang has received many awards for his work, including the CAF Order of Merit in 1998. His outstanding commitment to the progress of football in Africa and Asia, as well as his dedication to coaching and developing young players since the inception of FIFA's specialised courses, exemplifies the FIFA philosophy of football for everyone everywhere. It makes him a deserving recipient of the FIFA Order of Merit.