Friday 14 June 2024, 10:00

Gianni Infantino pays tribute to victims of the 1993 air disaster during first Zambia visit

  • FIFA President visits Zambia for the first time and meets President Hichilema

  • Gianni Infantino pays tribute to victims of the 1993 air crash and meets their relatives

  • New accommodation centre inaugurated for the Football Association of Zambia

Gianni Infantino has paid tribute to the victims of the 1993 air crash involving the Zambia national team and met their relatives during his first visit to the southern African nation. The FIFA President also inaugurated a new accommodation centre to help the national women's and youth teams and met the President of Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema. The FIFA President visited Heroes' Acre which honours the victims of the 1993 tragedy when the plane carrying the Zambia national team to a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier in Senegal crashed shortly after a re-fuelling stop in Gabon, claiming the lives of all 30 on board including 18 players. Along with FIFA Secretary General Mattias Grafstrom, Mr Infantino laid a wreath at the memorial and presented each relative with a special shirt bearing the name of the player who passed away. Accompanied throughout by Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) President Andrew Kamanga, he also visited Embassy Park, an official monument in Lusaka where former Zambia presidents are buried. The FIFA President and Secretary General were also joined by FIFA Regional Director Africa Gelson Fernandes, Head of President's Office Federico Raviglione and FIFA Legend and Lead Doha Office Houssine Kharja.

"My first visit to Zambia was very fulfilling and I felt right at home amongst this country's welcoming, football-loving people. It was fantastic to see everyone speak the language of football and speak the language of unity. Our sport has a special place here in Zambia and football is certainly on the rise," Mr Infantino said.

“On behalf of the FAZ and the Zambian football family, we were honoured to host President Infantino. It was a memorable visit,” said Mr Kamanga. “The FIFA president took time to engage personally with the families of the heroes.” The meeting with President Hichilema centred on football development and how football can use its popularity to have a positive impact on society while Gianni Infantino recalled Zambia's eye-opening 4-0 win over Italy at the Olympic Games football tournament in 1988. Mr Infantino also paid a courtesy visit to the Minister of Arts, Youth and Sports, Elvis Nkandu.

The FIFA Forward development programme has supported a number of infrastructure projects in Zambia and Mr Infantino had the honour of opening the latest -- a new FAZ accommodation centre designed to prepare Zambia’s junior and women's teams for international tournaments.

Last year, Zambia completed the renovation of the David Kaunda Stadium in Chipata, Eastern Province, which saw repairs and renovations to the natural turf pitch, the spectators' facilities, changing rooms and VIP seating. Two other stadium renovation projects have been underway and FIFA Forward funds have also helped the FAZ pay expenses of the U-20 national team.

Plans for the current FIFA Forward cycle include courses for referees, coaches, sports medicine experts and administrators, to help raise standards, plus further infrastructure development.

The FIFA President said the new centre would help Zambia build on the recent success of the women's national team, the Copper Queens, who qualified for the FIFA Women's World Cup™ for the first time in 2023 where Barbra Banda had the honour of scoring the competition's 1,000th goal in the match against Costa Rica. The team have also qualified for the Olympic Football Tournament Paris 2024 in France.

"FIFA is here to help further this growth and nurture the passion of the people here through opportunities. The FIFA Forward-funded project inaugurated today will definitely assist in creating more global football ambassadors from Zambia, as well as moments like the one Barbra Banda created," the FIFA President said. "Football stands for hope and smiles, and I hope to see more Zambian smiles on the world stage soon. You deserve it."