Saturday 23 March 2024, 15:30

FIFA Series to provide "positive learnings" for Sri Lanka

  • Jaswar Umar, the President of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL), says FIFA Series is "one of the milestones" for developing the game globally

  • Sri Lanka among five host nations of FIFA Series pilot phase launched in March 2024 international window

  • On and off-pitch benefits as teams from all six FIFA confederations take part across three continents

The President of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL), Jaswar Umar, has said the FIFA Series will provide "positive learnings" and forward momentum to football in his country and others like it around the world. Sri Lanka is one of five host nations across three continents taking part in the pilot phase of the FIFA Series, which involves 24 teams representing all six FIFA confederations. It is being implemented for the first time in the March 2024 Men's International Match Calendar window, and - as it will only be held in even years - will be rolled out in full in 2026. As outlined in the Strategic Objectives for the Global Game: 2023-2027 and following the FIFA Council decision of December 2022, the FIFA Series has been established with the express aim of providing national teams with - in the words of President Gianni Infantino - "more meaningful matches [to] enable far more valuable footballing interaction for players, teams and fans, and will make a concrete contribution to the development of the game." Bhutan, Central African Republic, and Papua New Guinea have all travelled to Sri Lanka to take part in friendly matches as part of the FIFA Series this year. Sri Lanka's men's and women's national teams have never qualified for a FIFA World Cup™ or AFC Asian Cup, making the opportunity to face opponents from other parts of the world rare. That will change thanks to the FIFA Series, and President Umar is convinced it can only enhance the football ecosystem in countries like his.

"I would say [the] FIFA Series is one of the milestones towards developing in the lower-ranked countries. It's a great opportunity for countries which need more cross-continental competitions or friendlies. I believe FIFA will continue this, and we urge all the countries, all the member associations, to support this in every even year, to take this FIFA Series forward with much more elevated standard, much more financial support, much more commercial support. So, this is a series which definitely needs to continue," said the FFSL President, whose men's team are 204th and women's team are 157th in the current FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. "[The] FIFA Series taught us a lot of new ways of hosting events with different standards, different guidelines, how to elevate the standards of international competitions. That's very good learning for us, especially for our staff and for our event teams, because we have been supported by many, many departments from FIFA’s side. There are very, very positive learnings throughout the series."

Football Federation of Sri Lanka President Jaswar Umar

Mr Umar has been a driving force for change in Sri Lankan football since first elected to the FFSL Presidency in 2021. Previously the organisation's General Secretary, Mr Umar used his new position to oversee the introduction of the semi-professional 10-team Football Sri Lanka Super League, which was supported by the FIFA Forward. Since, the FFSL has made use of FIFA Forward funding to improve infrastructure, notably renovating the Race Course Ground in the capital, Colombo, to prepare it to stage the FIFA Series games.

"We gradually are building our country’s football to the next level. So, this is one of the turning points. This is a key for us, a country which is on a lower ranking. And we can tell the world a story, that how FIFA, how FIFA's programme has taken us from rock bottom to the next level. So, if you ask me this question, maybe in about another four years' time, and I will talk to you, I will tell you with statistics and with [a] much more improved ranking and with much more [of a] success story," explained Mr Umar, who emphasised how the FIFA Series and the opportunity to play against teams from all of FIFA's six confederations could only be a catalyst for football development on the Indian Ocean island. "It means a lot for us, because it is an event that we are showcasing for the public of Sri Lanka to see a new dimension, a new outlook of football, how it's being played. Of course, with [the] FIFA label. So, it's going to be exciting. And then if you look at the current national team, it's a fantastic team that we have built over the past one or two years. And the world is going to see a lot different. If I play an international friendly with one of my counterparts in Asia, only Asia is going to talk about us. But here, the whole world is going to talk about this FIFA Series because we are going beyond boundaries. We are going beyond borders."

While the FIFA Series will provide the FFSL with the chance to share best practice with other FIFA Member Associations and its men's national team with the opportunity to measure themselves against players from other continents, Mr Umar highlighted the importance of the off-the-pitch aspect of the initiative, which fits snugly into FIFA's ethos that Football Unites the World.

"It's very important because this is a series which is connecting cross-confederations. Different people, different countries, different nations, different cultures, of course. Beyond football, beyond the pitch, we are trying to understand the other players, the other teams, their cultures, their style of play," said Mr Umar, who put his country forward as a FIFA Series host following a discussion with the FIFA President at the AFC Asian Cup in Doha, Qatar, early this year. "We have been looked after by various departments from FIFA. From top to bottom. And thank you [to] Gianni Infantino, FIFA President. I mean, he was instrumental [in initiating] this support for us. Whatever we need as a country, as a developing country in Sri Lanka, of course, we have received A to Z, all the support from FIFA. So, thank you, FIFA."

Football Development