Following a visit to the Togolese Republic, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, CAF Vice President Constant Omari, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura, Development Director for Africa and the Caribbean regions Véron Mosengo-Omba, Regional Office Development Manager El Hadj Wack Diop and members of the FIFA administration travelled to the Republic of Benin.
Upon landing in the capital of Porto Novo the delegation was greeted by Benin Football Federation (FBF) President Mathurin De Chacus, Benin’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Aurélien Agbénonci and Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Oswald Homeky, as well as some football fans who had painted themselves in the colours of the flag of the Republic of Benin and who welcomed the FIFA President and his delegation with enthusiasm.
The official agenda kicked off the morning of 10 January with a visit to the Presidential Palace for an audience with Patrice Talon, President of the Republic of Benin.
President Patrice Talon warmly welcomed Infantino and his delegation “en terre Beninoise” and highlighted the objectives of the unprecedented strategy for the promotion of the practise of sport in schools currently being implemented by his government and under which football plays a major role.
“I’m convinced that football has a unique power to shape society and overlooking this power is a big mistake,” said President Talon. “The people of Benin are very passionate about football and it’s the responsibility of the country’s leadership to create the right conditions for football to grow and flourish. Under its new sports strategy that I’m spearheading, Benin will invest in the building of 56 sports stadiums, 22 of which are already under construction. We intend to use the value of football as a game changer for our youth and we encourage FIFA to pay special attention to Benin by accompanying the efforts of the Benin government. I’m strongly committed to writing a new chapter in the history of Benin football with the support of FIFA and CAF.”
During their talks the FIFA President commended President Talon on his visionary leadership and the great convergence of ideas with the Benin president, emphasising that Talon perfectly understands the values and power of the king of sport in Africa, football. Infantino shared details of FIFA’s Football for Schools initiative with President Talon. Football for Schools will be pilot-tested in several African countries and FIFA proposed to the Benin head of state that the country be one of the first in Africa to benefit from this initiative. President Talon warmly agreed with this proposal.
Infantino also praised the hard work of FBF President Mathurin De Chacus since his election in August 2018 and underlined FIFA’s readiness and willingness to provide the necessary support to help sanitise football and provide technical knowledge for the building and renovation of football infrastructure, saying: “Funding football cannot be considered as simply money being spent but rather as long-term social and economic investment.”
Right after meeting with President Talon at the Republic Palace, Infantino signed the first-ever memorandum of understanding on FIFA’s Football for Schools initiative with the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Oswald Homeky, which will see football included in the national curriculum of Benin.
At a joint press conference following the signing of the memorandum of understanding, Minister Homeky said: “Benin is privileged to be the first country to sign a memorandum with the FIFA President aiming at promoting safe and healthy lifestyles for the youth of Benin through the practise of football and other sports in schools. This has put pressure on us to lead this programme to a successful end. We will dedicate the levels of resources necessary to position Benin in the football world.”
The FIFA President said: “With the tremendous pool of talent there is in Benin and the passion for the game, this country has all the ingredients to foster football development. The vision of President Patrice Talon makes me very confident that very soon the country will make headlines for the positive impact this new partnership will have on the performance of Benin’s football teams, as all the required skills and competences are available here to take football to new heights. We just need to show hard work and perseverance.”
A visit to the FBF’s technical centre in Misserete, Porto Novo followed. There the FIFA delegation saw the plans for the renovation of the football centre. At the site, Infantino was invited to lay the first stone to kick off the renovations and expansion works.
Following the symbolic laying of the first stone, a visit to the FBF headquarters took place which included discussions with members of the FBF Executive Committee. Speaking about the meetings, FBF President Mathurin said: “We are blessed to have the FIFA President visit our country less than five months after the installation of the new Executive Committee. This means a lot to the Benin football family and the only way to demonstrate our appreciation is to work—less words and more action—and to show the FIFA leadership that we will deliver by ensuring that before the end of our first term in 2022 that the construction of three football schools for boys and one for girls, responding to international norms, is completed.”
The FIFA President complimented the newly-elected Executive Committee members and expressed his appreciation for the warm welcome while also highlighting FIFA’s full support for the committee and that, without their hard work and commitment, nothing can be achieved. He also stressed how FIFA will closely follow the progress made by the FBF with interest.
Speaking about the talks, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura said: “I was thrilled to meet my old friend President Talon and former United Nations colleague Minister for Foreign Affairs Aurélien Agbénonci today. Since we landed in Benin the FIFA delegation, led by President Infantino, has received a wonderfully warm and friendly welcome and knowing how passionate President Talon is about football, I have no doubt that this first visit by President Infantino to this great country will not be his last. I also believe that the major reforms being carried out by the leadership of the Benin Football Association will yield strong outcomes in the development of football.”
A meeting with various football stakeholders took place next, followed by lunch and departure to the airport for the next port of call for the delegation: Burkina Faso.