FIFA President Gianni Infantino has praised Sri Lankan football leadership under the presidency of Jaswar Umar for the “courage, passion and commitment” it has shown by resetting the sport across the country, by embracing the future and by taking the necessary steps to provide hope for future generations there.
“I am now in football for a couple of decades, and [have been] following what was happening in global football, and I have to say that what happened in Sri Lankan football in the past were not hours or years of glory,” the FIFA President said in an address to members of the local football community, including recently-elected Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) President Jaswar Umar. “We have to say these things if you want to come clean with the past, and to embrace the future.
“This is what FIFA had to do [and] we rebuilt the trust of the international community to FIFA. This is exactly the path that Sri Lankan football is following now, and I want to thank Jaswar Umar and all of you as well for embracing this path which requires courage, passion and commitment.
“But it is the only way to go if we want to fulfil our mission and our task, which is to give hope and opportunities to our boys and our girls. It is our mission to make sure that we give the right environment to our children.”
The FIFA President and the FIFA delegation had several appointments on their visit, including discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and with Minister of Youth and Sports Namal Rajapaksa in Anuradhapura, as well as other meetings and presentations with FFSL members in Colombo.
The FIFA President referenced his discussions with Sri Lanka’s political leadership in his address to the local football community.
“We have been discussing together the introduction of a project that FIFA has launched very recently, which is called Football for Schools,” Infantino said. “It is a project that sits with the FIFA Foundation and it brings football to all the schools in all the countries which are interested and Sri Lanka is very much interested in that, to give the opportunity to all children in the country to experience football, not just to play football, but to be educated also through football. We are ready to do that here in Sri Lanka.”
The meetings also addressed grassroots football, club football, and infrastructure in Sri Lanka.
“We are looking at a proper, real football stadium for Sri Lanka because a stadium today is not just a place where you play football,” the FIFA President added. “A stadium is an icon for a country. Today, if matches are played at national level, the eyes of the world are watching. And when they see a nice, modern football stadium, the impression of people who are watching is that the whole country is modern and professional. We have the commitment of the government to help us in finding the right place for the stadium to be either refurbished or built from scratch, and we are here to help and invest.”
The visit of the FIFA delegation, which also included FIFA Legend Tim Cahill and FIFA Deputy Secretary-General (Football) Mattias Grafström, coincided with a four-nation tournament being staged in Colombo, which Seychelles won 3-1 on penalties after the final ended in a 3-3 stalemate, thus denying Sri Lanka their first international trophy in almost three decades. Nevertheless, the tournament has provided a real platform for the country to help develop the sport.
“Although our men’s national team is ranked 204 in the world, we still have the passion, the commitment, the energy and the determination to play football in all parts of the world,” FFSL President Jaswar Umar said, announcing that the federation will now implement FIFA Connect to help monitor football’s uptake countrywide. “When you look at Sri Lanka, at the territories, towns, villages, schools, you [see] how much our children, our youth and our women are playing football in all parts of the country.
“Now we are engaging on a special registration mission with FIFA’s support to register and to include our football family, our kids, our youth, our children, to register into our fold, so we know exactly where we stand, how many people are playing football, and how many are playing in different areas, so we know exactly how and where to plan our future development.”