President of the International Football Federation (FIFA) Giovanni Infantino along with Guyana Football Federation (GFF) boss Wayne Forde and Minister within the Ministry of Education, with responsibility for sport, Nicolette Henry, yesterday turned the sod on the Providence Community Ground, site of the country’s first FIFA ‘Forward Programme’ facility.
Infantino, during the feature address following his arrival minutes earlier said: “I am extremely happy to be here in Guyana today for this important ceremony that will change the landscape of football in Guyana but not only football but contribute a great lot to the society.”
Yesterday’s event marks approximately 16 years after former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter had arrived on local shores for the infamous sod turning fiasco in 2001 for what was widely believed to be a football stadium.
However, the sod was never turned as Blatter, whose tenure as president of the world governing body for the sport was tainted by a wave of corruption scandals, told media operatives that FIFA does not build stadia, which he declared was the responsibility of governments.
Since then this country has struggled to capitalise of FIFA’s largesse in providing funding for a football facility once land was made available.
Guyana along with Belize, The Bahamas, Nicaragua and St Lucia were selected in 1999 to benefit from FIFA’s pilot initiative known then as the ‘Goal Project’.
Asked if the ceremonial sod turning guarantees the start of the project, Infantino said: “The guarantee for the Guyanese population is Wayne [Forde] and his team. It’s a new team. They are accountable, they work under the same principles as we do in FIFA. It’s a new FIFA, it’s a new GFF as well. Of course in the past things have happened in FIFA more than anywhere else probably and you just have to do the things in a proper way, have to work in a transparent way, in an accountable way, applying principles of good governance and whatever we are doing.”
Notable viewers of the sod-turning ceremony included members of the GFF Executive Committee and Infantino’s delegation which included Véron Mosengo-Omba, FIFA Director of Member Associations and Development for Africa and the Caribbean, Mattias Grafstrom, FIFA Advisor to the President and Jasmin Frei, FIFA’s Office Manager, Executive Office of the President as well as football legends Pablo Aimar of Argentina and Colombian Juan Pablo Angel.
Infantino also took the opportunity to praise the work of Forde and his executive.
“Wayne [Forde] is a great president that is doing a great job with his team. They are thinking big, they are dreaming big but what is most important is that they are putting it into practice they are acting not just talking and that is important for this reason, FIFA is proud to be here, to be helping the football society in Guyana,” said Infantino.
He also disclosed that FIFA has increased its funding for members associations.
“FIFA now has increased the funding by more than three times so each association today receives US$1,250,000 every year in running costs and project related costs. It’s not just money paid and Wayne [Forde] knows this very well, it’s not money thrown out the window but linked always with some very clear conditions in terms of transparency and accountability and auditing and compliance which are conditions that the GFF has embraced totally and that’s why I am confident, Wayne is confident and we are working together and you will see the concrete results because we are both men of action and you will see the action on the field,” he added.
Meanwhile, Forde in a brief comment said, “We are here this morning to perform the ceremonial sod turning for the FIFA Forward Project that is going to commence in the matter of weeks I should say. Thank you all for coming out and sharing this momentous occasion with us. We are also going to be unveiling this plaque after the turning of the sod.”
Minister Henry praised FIFA for its continued investment in the sport locally, adding: “On behalf of the Government of Guyana we would like to say thank you for making this happen.”
With the ceremonial process completed, the programme is expected to commence shortly. To date, Dwain Ferdinand and Home Designs and Engineering Associates have inked the contract for the initiative’s sub-base work following an evaluation process.
Similarly, Netherlands-based establishment Greenfields was officially selected by FIFA to build the Goal Project artificial surface following the conclusion of the International Tender Process.
Greenfields edged out fellow Netherlands-based entity Edel Grass after the bidding process was narrowed down to the two companies.