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The FIFA Fair Play Award for 2008 has gone to the Football Associations of Armenia and Turkey for their part in encouraging dialogue between two countries which otherwise do not have any form of diplomatic relationship.
On 6 September 2008, the President of Turkey, Abdula Gul, spent eight hours in Yerevan, on the invitation of Armenian President Serzh Sargsian, in order to attend the two countries’ encounter in a qualifier for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country was holding the EU Presidency at the time, dubbed the meeting a “historic and brave initiative”. The visit was also heartily applauded by the international press, while 70 per cent of the Turkish public expressed their approval in opinion polls.
As a result, sport, and more specifically football, has helped alleviate a situation where traditional diplomacy had failed since 1991, the year Armenia gained independence. Indeed, President Gul’s trip was backed by nearly two-thirds of the Turkish population, according to a poll carried out by the research centre MetroPOLL, who found that six out of ten members of the Turkish public were in favour of re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.
As for the match itself, 10,000 fans were in the stands to witness this historic encounter first-hand. Visitors Turkey came through to win the game 2-0, but more importantly the match passed by without crowd trouble.
The Turkish President announced that he did not wish the dispute between the two nations to be part of his legacy for future generations. President Gul also invited his Armenian counterpart to attend the FIFA World Cup qualifying match between the two sides in Istanbul on 14 October 2009.
It is also worth noting that two other meetings between nations that do not currently enjoy diplomatic relations took place on 6 September 2008, both of which were also part of the South Africa 2010 preliminary phase. These were Cuba-United States in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone and Sudan-Chad in the African Zone, two further examples of how decisive a diplomatic role football can play.
The award was presented by UEFA President and FIFA Executive Committee member Michel Platini and his fellow FIFA Executive Committee member Senes Erzik.