CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO: FIFA president Sepp Blatter was in a spirited mood as he opened the Football for Hope 2014 festival tournament in Caju, Rio de Janeiro.

He was cheered on by local residents as he opened the tournament alongside Brazil legend Ronaldo, a member of the World Cup’s local organising committee, and Brazil’s Deputy Minister of Sport Luis Fernandes.

Over the next week, young gender mixed teams from 32 delegations will compete in 5-a-side games designed to help social development.

The teams are made up of youngsters from various charities from around the world tackling issues such as homelessness, to landmines, to HIV/AIDS education and responsible citizenship. The initiative was set up in 2005 and since has had $36 million of investment in it from FIFA.

Blatter said: “Football is connecting people and football gives you the opportunity to come together to enjoy and always to grow better – it’s football for hope.”

The event is also designed to promote fair play and so the matches take place without referees – a bonus in Blatter’s eyes, considering many of the incidents surrounding refereeing decisions in the 2014 FIFA World Cup so far.

“What is exceptional here is there are no referees,” he said. “There is nobody to blame, nobody to criticise and you never criticise the players. So it is where the essence of football is played, it is a great game.”

The residents of the deprived region of Caju rejoiced loudly when Blatter labelled the area as the 13th host city of the World Cup. Locals will hope to proudly boast that label years after the festival ends on July 10th.