UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin has visited Latvia and pledged UEFA’s financial support for the construction of a national football stadium in the capital, Riga.
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During his two-day visit, Mr Čeferin held talks with members of the Latvian government and senior civic dignitaries, and had fruitful discussions with the president of the Latvian Football Federation (LFF), Vadims Ļašenko.
The UEFA President was also present at a meeting at Riga’s City Council premises on Thursday where Mr Ļašenko and the Mayor of Riga, Mārtiņš Staķis, signed a protocol of intent for the construction of a national football stadium in the capital.
Mr Staķis highlighted three possible locations in Riga where the stadium could be built. Further decisions will be made by the members of the Riga City Council, and the actual construction of the stadium could begin in the next few years.
UEFA backing for national stadium plan
Mr Čeferin visited the potential sites for a national stadium and promised UEFA’s support for the project. “While visiting Latvia, I can see improvements in the football infrastructure,” he reflected, “but Latvia still needs a national football stadium. And this is not what I think … it is what I know.”
“I feel that there is understanding and positive energy among the decision-makers,” he added. “I don't see this as a political issue because every major political entity should support the creation of such a sports infrastructure.”
“We are ready to get involved with funding in the implementation of this project,” the UEFA President continued. “However, all the resulting decisions and details are on the side of the LFF, the municipality and other possible partners.”
The projected national stadium would potentially host not only top-level football matches and other sporting occasions, but also large-scale cultural events – increasing the growth potential of tourism in Riga and elsewhere in Latvia.
“It must be understood that this is a long-term process,” added Vadims Ļašenko, who described the protocol of intent for the national stadium as “an historic document that will allow us to continue our work on a very important issue for the development of Latvian football.”
“Today, a big step forward has been taken,” the LFF President added, while expressing his gratitude to UEFA for its constant invaluable support and cooperation. “It is not only financial, but also involves a lot of help in other matters,” he explained.
UEFA’s football development help to Latvia
On Wednesday, the UEFA President, together with Mr Ļašenko, met Latvia’s minister of education and science, Anita Muižniece, at the LFF headquarters, as well as the mayor of the city of Liepāja, Gunārs Ansiņš.
Anita Muižniece thanked UEFA and the LFF for their significant contribution to the development of Latvian football, which is being aided in its progress through funding provided by the European body’s HatTrick project. She emphasised that football is the most popular sport in Latvia and welcomed the UEFA President's viewpoint on a national football stadium.
Indoor halls programme
During Mr Čeferin’s visit, the UEFA President was also briefed about the construction of an inflatable football hall in Liepāja.
Building work has been undertaken with the help of UEFA funding, and is part of an ambitious nationwide indoor football halls construction programme being implemented by the LFF in cooperation with local municipalities.
Gunārs Ansiņš thanked the LFF and UEFA for implementing the inflatable hall project in Liepāja. The city’s mayor underlined the project’s importance as a way of keeping children playing football during the winter period. He explained that, on account of the winter weather conditions in Liepāja, children often chose other sports during the winter, with some not returning to football in the spring.
Key football investments
Thanks in no small part to the HatTrick funding contribution provided by UEFA, the LFF has been able to make various recent investments in the improvement of football and sports infrastructure in Latvia.
These have included the construction of dozens of artificial football pitches; improvements to the Daugava Stadium in Liepāja; provision of field maintenance equipment; the construction of automatic watering systems and other vital LFF football infrastructure support programme projects.
Later on Thursday, the UEFA President concluded his visit to Latvia when he attended the national men’s team’s UEFA Nations League League D Group 1 match against Moldova at Riga’s Skonto Stadium.