Alei: South Sudan are not starting from scratch

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Founded in February and already now looking forward to its first international friendly, the South Sudan Football Association has certainly hit the ground running. Shortly after the association’s admission as FIFA’s 209th member, FIFA World caught up with SSFA President Chabur Goc Alei to ask him about the significance of joining FIFA and his association’s plans for the future.

FIFA World: Congratulations on your admission into FIFA. What does this mean for the South Sudan Football Association?
*Chabur Goc Alei: *Being a member of FIFA means that South Sudan is now part of the international football community and ready to participate in all the issues facing football. We know that we are going to face a lot of challenges to develop football in South Sudan, especially due to the ongoing conflict with the north, but that just makes us all the more committed to working together with all associations and using football in the fight against hunger, poverty and war.

Setting up a new association is a challenge at the best of times, so what has it been like to do so against the backdrop of the general political situation between South Sudan and Sudan?
Well, there have been some difficulties of course, and there still are, but we are working hard together with the Sudan FA, with whom we have a good relationship. We know that politically things are not ok between our two countries, but they are ok when it comes to the area of football.

How are things looking in terms of your senior national team?
We are not starting from scratch when it comes to the senior team because we already have clubs in South Sudan who were playing in Sudan’s Premier League before we gained independence, so we have some experienced players based in the south. But it’s true that the general standard of the clubs is higher in the north, and we still have about 100 players based in the north who want to play for South Sudan while remaining with their club sides in Sudan. Right now, it’s difficult for those players to travel to the south, but this is something we are addressing with our government and with the Sudan Football Association.

What else is on the agenda for the coming months?
We’ve already had a lot of discussions with FIFA and our government about how best to develop the game in general, and our main priority will be setting up our own Premier League and applying for development projects to help fund academies and improve stadiums. We will have a club team taking part in June’s CECAFA tournament (for countries from East and Central Africa) and will also be looking to have a strong national side in place in time for the qualifiers for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Another key date will be in July, when we have invited Uganda to play a friendly against us in our capital, Juba. Our first official international match should therefore coincide with the first anniversary of our independence, which shows how far we’ve come in football terms in just one year.