International Football Association (FIFA) president Gianni Infantino, who last week visited Zimbabwe and met with President Robert Mugabe, said that he was encouraged by the interest shown by the President and the government towards developing football in the country.
The FIFA president, who was in the country at the invitation of Zimbabwe International Football Association (ZIFA) president Philip Chiyangwa, was accompanied by the organization’s Secretary-General Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura and a small delegation from the world football governing body.
The country’s Minister of Sport and Recreation Makhosini Hlongwane said President Mugabe appreciated the support by FIFA for the government-sponsored Community Sport and Recreation Club system, which seeks to establish 8,000 clubs across the country as well as set up a national football academy.
Speaking following his meeting with the President, Mr. Infantino said, "We discussed football in general, about football in Zimbabwe, about what we can do together, with the football association and the government, to develop football in this country."
"There are some incomplete projects which have started and which we are fully supporting. We would also like to thank the government for having raised these projects, like the one to create and set up 8,000 football clubs around the whole country to develop and foster grassroots football in a structured way.”
"We have been discussing the project of establishing a national football academy with the ZIFA and we are also helping and investing to make sure that these projects will revolutionize football in this country and bring the legacy to everyone," said Mr. Infantino. He added, "Of course, one of the FIFA principles is non-interference of Governments in football affairs, but this is for the sporting side and for the development of the game we are co-operating as partners. At the end of the day it's a win-win situation."
The former UEFA secretary-general, who has been in office for only a year, has done a lot to benefit Africa. Apart from increasing the participants at the World Cup from 32 to 46 countries by the time the 2026 edition kicks off, FIFA have also multiplied the supporting grants to associations almost four-fold from $250 000 per year to US$1,2 million.
The FIFA president also said a country like Zimbabwe can now afford to have a "realistic" dream of playing at the World Cup as plans are afoot to double the slots of qualifying teams from the continent from five to 10.
Under the new Forward Football Development Program, FIFA also significantly increased financial support for member associations and football development to $5 million per four-year cycle for each member association. This means each association has access to $750 000 per year for football projects such as pitches, competitions and women's football.
Every association also receives up to $500 000 per year for running costs in areas including administration and governance. Additional funds could be increased as per request, but Mr. Infantino stressed that continued financial backing will only be subject to compliance to the tenets of good governance and transparent use of the funds.