The president of the Irish Football Association (IFA), Jim Shaw, has visited UEFA's headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
Mr Shaw, who was recently elected president of Northern Ireland's national association, met UEFA president Michel Platini and other UEFA officials for discussions on European football issues, as well as on the relationship between the continental body and the IFA – underpinned by the sporting and infrastructure assistance given by UEFA as part of the HatTrick assistance scheme for UEFA's 53 member associations.
Northern Ireland has been a distinguished representative of European football over the years. The national team has qualified for three FIFA World Cups – in 1958, when they reached the quarter-finals as the smallest association in population terms ever to do so, and again in 1982 and 1986. One of the greatest players ever, George Best, came from Northern Ireland. Another Northern Ireland man, William McCrum, is credited with inventing the penalty kick in the late 19th century.
Mr Shaw has taken the helm at a vital moment in Northern Ireland's footballing history, with a number of interesting projects in the pipeline. "It's interesting and informative to come to UEFA," he told UEFA.com. "It's good to be able to gain a perspective on the governing bodies."
The IFA greatly appreciates UEFA's help. "We're a relatively small association," Mr Shaw said, "and the support that UEFA provides is critical, not just financially, but in terms of advice, and I can see this getting even stronger in the future."
Football continues to play an essential social role in Northern Ireland. "Football in Northern Ireland has been the most popular game for many years across the communities – it's a very strong cross-community participative sport," Mr Shaw explained. "It's the one sport that goes across all the elements of the population."
A number of projects are also in progress for the future. "We're moving towards a redeveloped national stadium," said the IFA president. "That is critical at the highest level to maintain our status. We hope to develop this over the next three to four years. We have one of the best grassroots programmes, I would suggest, in Europe, and we want to continue to develop that – everything develops over time ... and nothing stays static."
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