NEWLY-elected FIFA president Gianni Infantino visited war-torn South Sudan on Wednesday, the world’s newest nation, on one of his first official trips since taking up the post.
Infantino, who formally inaugurated the office of the South Sudanese Football Association (SSFA) in the capital Juba, is also due to watch an African Cup of Nations qualifier between South Sudan and Benin.
Officials dressed Infantino in traditional robes and made him dance. They also produced a large cake to celebrate Infantino’s 46th birthday on Wednesday.
“It is a great pleasure for me to be here today in Juba,” Infantino said after cutting a ribbon to mark its opening of the SSFA, calling it “the first of many projects to come, for the development of football here in South Sudan.” Infantino promised a “new era of developing football.” After gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan erupted into civil war in December 2013, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines. Tens of thousands have been killed.
Both the government and rebel sides have been accused of perpetrating ethnic massacres, recruiting and killing children and carrying out widespread rape, torture and forced displacement of populations to “cleanse” areas of their opponents.
Infantino, who met with South Sudan President Salva Kiir, but whose visit was not announced in advance amid security concerns, said he would help develop football in a country left in ruins after decades of war.
“There is a lot of work to be done, it is not at the standard that it has to be…South Sudan is one of my key elements of my campaign and program to help develop football,” Infantino said.
“We will come up with something concrete that people of South Sudan will be proud of.” Infantino’s first official international visit was earlier this month to the United Kingdom.
Later this month he is due to visit the scandal-hit South American football confederation CONMEBOL on March 28-29 in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay.