Upon landing in the capital of Porto Novo, the delegation was greeted by Benin Football Association (FBF) President Mathurin de Chacus, Benin’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Aurélien Agbénonci and Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Oswald Homeky. A number of football fans, who had painted themselves in the colours of the Beninese flag, also turned out to enthusiastically welcome the FIFA President.
The official agenda kicked off with a visit to the Presidential Palace for an audience with Beninese President Patrice Talon.
“I’m convinced that football has a unique power to shape society and that to overlook this power would be a big mistake,” said President Talon. “The people of Benin are very passionate about football and the country’s leadership has the responsibility to create the right conditions for the game to grow and flourish. Under its new sports strategy that I’m spearheading, Benin will invest in the building of 56 sports stadiums, 22 of which are already under construction. We intend to use football as a game changer for young people here and we encourage FIFA to pay special attention to Benin and the efforts of the Beninese government. I’m strongly committed to writing a new chapter in the history of Beninese football with the support of FIFA and CAF.”
During their talks, the FIFA President commended President Talon on his visionary leadership and noted how much they were on the same wavelength, emphasising that Talon perfectly understands the values and power of the beautiful game, which is the most popular sport in Africa. Infantino also shared details of FIFA’s Football for Schools initiative, which will be pilot-tested in several African countries, and proposed that Benin be one of the countries to take part in these tests. President Talon warmly agreed to this proposal.
Infantino also praised the hard work of FBF President Mathurin de Chacus since his election in August 2018 and underlined FIFA’s readiness to provide the necessary support to help sanitise football, as well as technical expertise for the building and renovation of infrastructure. “Funding football cannot be considered as simply money being spent but rather must be viewed as a form of long-term social and economic investment,” said the FIFA President.
Right after meeting with President Talon, Infantino signed the first-ever memorandum of understanding on FIFA’s Football for Schools initiative with the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Oswald Homeky, which will see football included in Benin’s national curriculum.
At a joint press conference following the signing of the memorandum of understanding, Minister Homeky said: “Benin is privileged to be the first country to sign a memorandum with the FIFA President aimed at promoting safe and healthy lifestyles for the young people of Benin through the playing of football and other sports in schools. This has put pressure on us to make this programme a success. We will dedicate the necessary resources to put Benin on the football map.”
The FIFA President said: “With the tremendous pool of talent and passion for the game in Benin, this country has all the ingredients to foster football development. The vision of President Talon makes me very confident that very soon, the country will make headlines for the positive impact that this new partnership will have on the performance of Benin’s football teams. All the required skills and competences are available here to take football to new heights. We just need to show hard work and perseverance.”
Next up was a visit to the FBF’s technical centre in Missérété, Porto Novo, where the FIFA delegation was given a glimpse of the plans for the centre’s renovation. President Infantino was then invited to lay the first stone to kick off the renovation and expansion works.
Following the symbolic laying of the first stone, a visit to the FBF headquarters took place, which included discussions with members of the FBF Executive Committee. Regarding the meetings, FBF President De Chacus said: “We are blessed to have the FIFA President visit our country less than five months after the installation of the new Executive Committee. This means a lot to the Benin football family and the only way to demonstrate our appreciation is to work and to show the FIFA leadership that we will deliver, by ensuring that before the end of our first term in 2022, the construction of three football schools for boys and one for girls is completed to the highest international standards. Actions speak louder than words.”
The FIFA President complimented the newly elected Executive Committee members and expressed his gratitude for the warm welcome, while also highlighting FIFA’s full support for the committee, stating that nothing could be achieved without their hard work and commitment. He also stressed how FIFA will follow the progress made by the FBF with interest.
Speaking about the talks, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura said: “I was thrilled to meet my old friend President Talon and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Aurélien Agbénonci, my former United Nations colleague, today. Since we landed in Benin, the FIFA delegation led by President Infantino has received a wonderfully warm and friendly welcome. Knowing how passionate President Talon is about football, I have no doubt that this first visit by President Infantino to this great country will not be his last. I also believe that the major reforms being carried out by the leadership of the Benin Football Association will yield strong outcomes in the development of football.”
A meeting with various football stakeholders took place next, followed by lunch and departure to the airport for the next port of call for the delegation: Burkina Faso.