It is an event quite unlike any other. The FIFA Congress is about to get started once again and, as usual, that means a huge number of people are on the move and a mammoth logistical effort underway. No fewer than ten tons of material have been transported from FIFA headquarters, representing more than 100,000 items overall, while 3,659 flights have been booked from every corner of the planet, more than 5,000 hotel nights reserved and around 100 journalists accredited for an event that will feature 1,000 participants.
“Above all, FIFA have accorded us a great honour by trusting in our capacity to organise this event,” explained the President of the Bahamas Football Association, Anton Sealey, an impressively relaxed figure despite the obvious pressure of coordinating such a major undertaking. “We started working hand-in-hand with FIFA last September to ensure that this Congress will be a success and I’m totally confident it will be.”
So what and where are the Bahamas? A Caribbean state made up of around 700 atolls, the Bahamas boast a total land surface of 13,940km² and around 300,000 inhabitants, but above all they are known as a tropical paradise popular with tourists. On the football front, meanwhile, the country continues to make steady progress.
The sport was introduced there relatively recently, at the end of the First World War to be precise, while the first match to feature a Bahamian national team dates back to 1957 and FIFA affiliation came only in 1968. “It’s crucial for a country like ours, which doesn’t have a long history of football, to have the opportunity to organise an event like this,” added President Sealey. “This is a way of putting football at the forefront and attracting people’s attention. And I can tell you that this Congress has provoked excitement all across the country. I hope that by casting this spotlight we’ll be able to attract young people to football as well as new partners to help us, because that’s fundamental for a small association like ours.”
At the moment, cricket and athletics are the sports that rouse the most passions in the Bahamas, with football lagging behind and just 4,872 documented footballers in total. Raising that number is certain to be a long process and support from bodies such as FIFA will undoubtedly prove vital. “President Blatter’s philosophy is to treat every association equally and not in terms of its size or the standard of its football,” said President Sealey. “I can only go along with that, and that’s also the reason why he offered us the chance to organise this major event, which like many other FIFA programmes[such as] Goal [and the Financial Assistance Programme] will help us continue to develop football here.”
Looked at from that angle, bringing together FIFA’s 208 member associations must be considered not only a privilege with this being the first time the Congress has been held in the Caribbean but also a chance to show the whole world that the Bahamas are much more than a holiday destination.
“The first thing we did when we came back from Zurich last September was to go and see the Prime Minister, who gave us his full support,” continued President Sealey. “The Minister of Foreign Affairs made it possible for all the delegates to receive visas, the Minister of Employment improved the necessary infrastructures and so on. The whole government made efforts to ensure our success. That proves that the entire country can mobilise itself for football and that makes me optimistic for the future.” Welcome to the Bahamas!