Manuel Dende, the President of the Football Association of Sao Tome e Principe, a small cluster of islands off Africa's west coast, travelled to FIFA headquarters on Wednesday to meet Joseph S. Blatter and finalise his FA's new statues. His business done for the day, the country's jovial football chief shared his views with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Mr Dende, can you explain why you have come to Zurich?
Manuel Dende: We have been invited here by FIFA to complete the review of our statutes, which we had to bring into line with the Standard Statutes adopted by FIFA at its Congress in Sydney. We have been working on them since May and now we're rounding things off in Zurich.
What do you think Sao Tome e Principe football needs to compete in Africa?
A little history first of all. We only gained independence in 1975 and up until then we were a Portuguese colony. We were, and still are, in a very difficult economic position. Our main source of revenue is the cocoa trade but prices have collapsed, and while our population has increased considerably we have been hit hard by a number of illness such as AIDS and we have got a tremendous amount of young people. In short, the government has to concentrate on its social role and on education and health. We just don't have the money or the time to focus on sport.
Why did you withdraw from the qualification competition for South Africa 2010?
We are an island country about 300 kilometres from the mainland and we are a little bit isolated. The plane is very expensive and that's why it was impossible for us to take part in the second round of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
Do you feel you are getting enough support?
Yes, FIFA is helping us a lot, initially through the Financial Aid Programme (FAP) and then through the Goal projects. We are just about to get our third project under way, which involves the setting up of a football academy on the island of Principe. Lastly, thanks to the 'Win in Africa with Africa' programme we have installed a synthetic pitch at the Grand Stade, and that means we can now host international matches.
What do you see as the solution for the problems afflicting football in Sao Tome e Principe?
There's no question the solution lies in training and development. With that in mind we're concentrating our efforts on women's football and the U-17 teams. That last category is very important because they're the generation of players who will most likely be representing us in the qualifiers for Brazil 2014. We are optimistic. There's a willingness to create a structure for the game here and to help it develop. Moreover, everyone in the country loves sport and it's our human resources that give us hope.