Saturday 06 April 2024, 13:00

FIFA celebrates the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace

  • The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace falls on 6 April

  • The theme for 2024 is “Sport for the Promotion of Peaceful and Inclusive Societies”

  • Against this backdrop, we shine the spotlight on the work done by Gelson Fernandes and the FIFA Member Associations Africa Subdivision, which he leads

Introduced by the United Nations in 2013 and celebrated annually on 6 April ever since, the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace is an opportunity to recognise the positive role played by sport – especially football – in communities and people’s lives worldwide. This topic is close to the heart of FIFA President Gianni Infantino, as the development of football and social responsibilities are included in his Strategic Objectives for the Global Game: 2023-2027. The action taken by Gelson Fernandes and FIFA’s Member Associations Africa Subdivision illustrates this ambition. Since his appointment in 2022 as FIFA’s Regional Director for Africa, the former midfielder, who won 67 caps and scored two goals for Switzerland, has been continuing the work initiated by world football’s governing body to guide the continent towards new sporting and societal horizons.

“The [FIFA Forward] development programme was established eight years ago and we are now fully reaping the rewards,” Fernandes told Inside FIFA. “We saw this during the last Africa Cup of Nations. Member associations are starting to be well organised and are increasingly benefiting from high-quality infrastructure, all of which promotes football development. The fact that there are many infrastructure projects on this continent is because the starting point is further behind. Africa is vast. If we want children to play everywhere, we need to provide the means!”

The financial resources of FIFA member associations based in Africa may be more limited than elsewhere, which has hindered the development of the game for a long time, considering that 90% of member associations on the continent rely solely on FIFA for financial support. Launched in 2016, the FIFA Forward Programme provided a framework from which numerous initiatives have been born. As set out in the FIFA Forward global report, between 2016 and 2022, USD 118.7 million were used to improve facilities in Africa, with 144 projects carried out and 94 new pitches laid.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 23: FIFA Member Associations Director Africa Gelson Fernandes during the FIFA Anti-Racism Task Force on February 23, 2024 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Tullio Puglia - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

The money generated by FIFA goes back into development. This is the big change brought about by good governance. Revenue goes into football and it’s for football.

Gelson Fernandes
FIFA Regional Director for Africa

“The report is clear, but what would’ve been fantastic is if people could travel across Africa to see what has actually been put in place,” admitted Fernandes. “A lot of money has been invested, resulting in the creation of many competitions, while putting smiles on lots of people’s faces and spurring a host of emotions and opportunities, with many male and female players turning professional and great players coming through the ranks... Member associations, a confederation and regional associations have all been supported by this programme, which shows the extent of the impact of FIFA Forward!” The area where this impact is undoubtedly the most visible is in women’s football. Supported by record investments made by FIFA and driven by changing norms within society, the female game has taken significant strides forward on the continent in recent years. The CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations 2022 symbolised this progress, in terms of both the standard of play and the immense levels of excitement generated by the event, which featured 12 teams for the first time.

“FIFA Forward made a huge contribution to the success of that Africa Cup of Nations. Many other regional tournaments have also stemmed from this programme, where teams like Zambia have been able to showcase their talent,” noted the Swiss. “Beyond that, the programme has allowed facilities for girls and women to be built or improved, while grants have also been allocated to women’s clubs. Technical staff have been made available to them, too. Thanks to all these factors, we now have quality clubs and national teams.” Through that tournament, four national teams – namely Morocco, Zambia, South Africa and Nigeria – secured their berths at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™. They achieved historic results, with the Atlas Lionesses, Banyana Banyana and the Super Falcons reaching the knockout stages of the global showpiece.

“The teams that stayed at home, such as Cameroon, Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria or any other country, are likely to have been asking themselves ‘Why can’t we do the same?’ I’m convinced that the impressive results by African teams opened the eyes of many member associations,” said Fernandes. Their performances certainly warmed the hearts of thousands of fans, who were captivated by their exploits. A more united African continent than ever before fervently supported the quartet throughout the competition, in what was a beautiful illustration of FIFA’s #FootballUnitesTheWorld message, as well as this year’s theme for the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, which is “Sport for the Promotion of Peaceful and Inclusive Societies”.