In the first weekend of February 2012, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter visited South America in order to take part in meetings at CONMEBOL’s Extraordinary Congress in the Paraguayan capital Asuncion. Blatter, who was accompanied on the trip by FIFA vice-president Angel Maria Villar Llona, got involved in a number of events alongside leading members of the CONMEBOL Executive Committee.

On Friday 3 February, and even after encountering summer temperatures of over 30°C, the heat ratcheted up a further notch for the FIFA delegation at the Estadio Rogelio Lorenzo Livieres. There, the FIFA President was warmly applauded when taking the ceremonial kick-off for the Paraguayan Apertura 2012 clash between Guarani and Independiente.

The 3-1 victory for the former proved an enjoyable aperitif for the day’s main course – the CONMEBOL official dinner – which was also attended by delegations from the football associations of all ten South American nations. Among their number were the presidents of each of these FAs, the CONMEBOL leadership, and local authority figures including the President of Paraguay’s Chamber of Deputies, Victor Bogado, and the country’s Minister for Industry and Commerce, Oscar Rivas.

Asked to address those present, the President of world football’s governing body stated his gratitude at being invited to CONMEBOL’s Extraordinary Congress. After praising CONMEBOL as “a pioneering organisation and the world’s oldest confederation”, Blatter went on to underline the impact the beautiful game can have: “We must not forget how it [football] can contribute to society in terms of education, as well as the qualities of respect and fair play that it can instil in young people.”

Autonomy and independence
This was the FIFA President’s last intervention prior to the morning of Saturday 4 February, when he briefly opened a meeting between the presidents of the South American FAs.

The Extraordinary Congress, which was officially opened by CONMEBOL President, Nicolas Leoz, and the President of the Paraguayan FA (APF), Juan Angel Napout, took place later that day, with Blatter taking the opportunity to highlight some of the region’s success stories. These included the host of international titles won by South American teams over the course of football history and the diverse development projects FIFA is carrying out in the area, headed by the Goal Programme.

At the event, the representatives of the football associations in attendance discussed issues relating to autonomy and independence, going on to unanimously approve a revision of the confederation’s statute with a view to preventing any kind of outside interference. What is more, there was further unanimous approval for the creation of a Disciplinary Tribunal and an Appeals Tribunal, as well as a vote for the statute to be revised in terms of matters relating to the fight against doping.

“These have been three very important days for our confederation, during which we’ve been honoured by the visit of the FIFA President, who is a great friend to South American football,” said CONMEBOL President Leoz in a press conference on Sunday 5 February. “We’ve modified the CONMEBOL statute to strengthen the associations’ independence and avoid outside interference in football.”

‘An extraordinary World Cup’
At the same press conference, which also featured APF President Napout, Blatter again gave thanks for the warm welcome he had received throughout Paraguay. He also took the opportunity to look forward to the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, when the final tournament returns to South American soil for the first time in 36 years.

“Brazil will host an extraordinary World Cup,” said Blatter, before adding that “the stadiums will be ready. We at FIFA have no doubt that it’ll be a great World Cup. There are some details to be ironed out in relation to guarantees and laws, but we’re hoping these will be sorted out by the end of March.”

The South American Zone qualifiers for Brazil 2014 kicked off in October 2011 and, with the host nation qualifying automatically, there are 4.5 further places up for grabs for CONMEBOL nations.