FIFA patronage endears Blatter to 196th-ranked Fiji
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The unflinching support of tiny, developing countries has long been a vital plank of Sepp Blatter's political base and those in any doubt of the impact of FIFA's patronage need look no further than the Pacific Island nation of Fiji.
With a population of just 900,000, Fiji is famous for punching above its weight in international rugby but remains a minnow in global soccer, its men's team a lowly 196th out of the 209 nations in world rankings.
Still, Fijian football officials have beamed with pride this week with their youth team's debut appearance at the under-20 World Cup tournament in New Zealand.
The achievement in qualifying for the first time has raised hopes of a brighter future for the game in a tropical country long dependent on tourist dollars and foreign aid.
It would also have been unthinkable without FIFA's financial help in funding development projects, according to Fiji Football Association chief executive Bob Kumar.
"We were very proud because it was the first time in our history that we have qualified at the World Cup level and this will be a push for development and participation," Kumar told Reuters by telephone after Fiji were trounced 8-1 by Germany in their World Cup opener in Christchurch on Monday.
"We thank FIFA because it’s because of their help with development that we have come all this way.
"It would have been very difficult (without FIFA). Continued...