International Football Money Gives Cambodia Kick Start

A new center is being built for the Cambodian national football program—and fans help pay for it every time they watch a big international match on television.

Joseph Blatter, president of the Federation International Football Association, arrived in Phnom Penh Tuesday bearing a $400,000 gift from the world soccer body, which will be used to help construct a technical and administrative center on 3.3 hectares of land just north of Route 4 about 3 km west of Pochentong Airport near the Royal Phnom Penh golf club.

The center will consist of a practice field surrounded by an administrative office big enough for a 26-person staff, a dormitory with 12 double bedrooms, a food preparation building and a 286 square meter locker room facility.

The total cost of the program is estimated at $550,000, with $60,000 worth of sponsor money already committed in addition to the FIFA grant, which is financed mostly through the sale of broadcast rights to international matches.

Construction is scheduled to begin immediately and be completed in 16 months. “There will be a penalty assessed on the builder if he doesn’t meet the deadline,” said Khek Ravy, president of the Cambodian Football Federation.

“Will that be a kick from the penalty line?” joked Blatter.

“Worse than that,” Khek Ravy promised.

Blatter enjoys talking about Goal Project, which in two years has spread to nearly 100 of the poorer nations of the world. He can reel off the names of dozens of nations already benefiting from the grants, which are for a maximum of $400,000.

“Liberia was the first country. They now have an artificial turf and new offices,” Blatter began. “Uruguay has a new training center. Jordan and Sri Lanka have new administration buildings. Mali will have one by the end of the year.”

He listed 20 more countries around the world, and then mentioned Guinea and Palestine, two places where war has forced FIFA to suspend Goal Project operations. “But we won’t forget about them,” he vowed.

Fully 75 percent of the money for Goal Project comes from FIFA’s television deals, including the contracts selling broadcast rights to the 2002 World Cup tournament, which is currently underway and concludes next June with matches in Japan and South Korea. The other 25 percent comes from FIFA marketing deals around the world.

Marketing is a sticky topic with the Swiss-born Blatter these days. A FIFA marketing partner collapsed financially in April amid allegations that $50 million of FIFA’s money earmarked for promotion had been diverted to an unknown Swiss bank account. Blatter said Tuesday that FIFA would now be handling all marketing in-house until after the 2002 World Cup.

He said FIFA has put $60 million into Goal Project. That compares with $204 million given directly to national associations, $60 million split equally between the world’s six federations, and $20 million to various non-football charity projects.

Goal Project focuses on four areas: building fields, training centers and offices; organizing and properly staffing national associations; educating administrators, coaches, referees and sports medicine specialists; and developing youth football, identifying talented players and working with youth coaches.

“But we don’t want federations waiting around for something to come from heaven,” Blatter said, leaning back in his chair and looking above for emphasis. “The federations have to work together with the political, social, economic and cultural groups in their country in order to make progress.”

According to Khek Ravy, pro­gress is being made. Although Cambodia was outscored 22-2 in the six-match World Cup qualifying round just completed, he pointed to a 3-1 loss to powerful China as one example of im­provement.

“We rejoined FIFA in 1994, and I think we have made steady progress,” he said. “What encourages me the most is that the average age of our team this year is 22 years old, and the teams we played against [China, Indonesia and Maldives] all averaged 27 to 28 years of age. And I thought our younger players did a good job.”

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