Reunited in Switzerland - 20th Edition ‘special week’

As the 20th Edition of the FIFA Masters began their Sustainability module at SDA Bocconi in February 2020, little did they know this would be the last class they would have ‘in-person’ all year. 

In the weeks that followed, the pandemic hit Milan, forcing classes online and eventually shutting down the entire region. The class was spread far and wide, some to Switzerland and others on planes across Europe, with late-night border crossings and hurried suitcase packing the themes of that fateful weekend! 

Soon after, the class flew back to their homes and families around the world (or sought refuge with very welcoming classmates!) and the Masters continued online. Despite the adversity, and with the incredible support of CIES and the FIFA Master Alumni community, spirits stayed high, and the unique experience of the 20th Edition came to an end… or so we thought. 

Fast forward two years, and this same class found themselves making their way back to Switzerland for the chance to finally reunite, thanks to an incredible invitation from CIES. With the vision to give the class a taste of the Swiss-sporting and social experiences that COVID denied them, the 20th Edition was welcomed for a week of visits, dinners and activities. 

29 of the 32 members of the 20th Edition made their way to Neuchatel for the week: an incredible feat considering the global footprint and busy schedules of us all. Mini-reunions began occurring in airports and train stations across Switzerland as long-lost friends came together again over the weekend, before all congregating in Neuchatel on that Monday afternoon.

CIES curated an entire schedule of field visits, social events and networking activities across Switzerland, in collaboration with events run by the FMA community. Having missed out on this in 2020 and with the two year break, it was surreal to be experiencing FIFA Masters life all over again.

The week began with a walking tour of Neuchatel (featuring lake views, local history and absinthe!) and an incredible welcome apero and dinner in the Palais DuPeyrou, home of CIES. 

The following day, we embarked on the first of our Swiss field visits. The FIFA Master gives you the chance to visit the home of so many sports around Switzerland, and this week we packed in some of the highlights!

A day at the UCI gave us a window into the classic (velodrome) and the new (BMX) worlds of cycling, with a few bumps and bruises along with the rapid laps and landed jumps! We also learnt about the sustainability of cycling’s future, thanks to a presentation from fellow alumni Isabella Burczak. An evening by Lac Leman followed, with an incredible sunset and the chance to meet alumni from many editions from the last two decades, in the incredibly active Lausanne community.

Next up, we were off to Lausanne for a day at the IOC, a dream come true for so many in the class. We had presentations about their event DNA, the Youth Olympics, the way they support athletes and the work of the legal teams. This was topped off by a star appearance and open Q&A session with the IOC’s Director General, Christophe De Kepper, who shared both personal and professional lessons with the class. A lake-view lunch at the Olympic Museum was followed by a tour through Olympic history that afternoon, from Greece 1896 to Paris 2024 and beyond! 

Next we travelled to Zurich for a day at FIFA itself! Yet another dream come true for so many of us, we began at the FIFA Museum with a guided tour of world football history, World Cup by World Cup, nation by nation. After a traditional Zurich lunch at the Zoo, we were welcomed at the Home of FIFA, where we were given a first-hand insight into what it takes to bring the FIFA World Cup to life, followed by a session on the ongoing development of the women’s game. The day concluded with a football match against a FIFA staff team.

It is worth reflecting that much has changed since we were all together two years ago: there have been marriages, new jobs, new homes and children - both arrived and on the way! One thing that has not changed, however, is our form on the football field. Despite creating many chances in the first half and staying in the game against a well-drilled FIFA side, the end result was not so flattering.

Humble in defeat but having enjoyed the experience as a team, this was the perfect moment to remind us all of the immortal words of Pierre De Coubertin, founder of the Olympic Movement, that were so often told to us by another legendary Pierre (more on him later…): 

“The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part: the important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.” Pierre DC

The match was followed by an evening with yet more alumni and well deserved (well, maybe…) Italian meal. Post-postre, we were heading back to Neuchatel for the home straight of this special week’s festivities.

The following day, the 22nd Edition gave their final presentations in sweltering temperatures, eight groups sharing their projects covering hot topics from across the world of sport. How can African footballing academies better nurture their talent? What role can music and entertainment play at the Olympics? And how to make national football a brand? 

Before celebratory drinks, there was a special tribute to our aforementioned Pierre - Professor Pierre Lanfranchi. A man who, in his own words, “was in meeting number 1 for the FIFA Masters”, and has been the instrumental part of 22 editions of the course ever since. A truly global sports scholar, Pierre was a friend, father and grandfather to class after class of graduates from around the world, with his incredible power to bring people together and eccentric curiosity. A fitting tribute was given on stage by colleagues, gifts given and several standing ovations followed, leaving a man (who could speak on behalf of the planet!) almost speechless - no mean feat. 

We were treated to a special dinner at CIES and the FMA’s very own Alessandro Pellicotta’s Italian restaurant in Yverdon-Les-Bains that evening, complete with both a sunset and a rainstorm, not to mention incredible food, drink and service!

Our final full day gave us the chance to be a part of the 22nd edition’s graduation ceremony, in the picturesque setting of Neuchatel Castle at the top of the city. Speeches were made, certificates handed out and wise words shared as we finally had the chance to ‘graduate’ in style, with CIES kindly presenting us copies of our 2020 diplomas at the end of the ceremony. 

After yet another drinks reception in our finery at the castle, the class then attended the FMA gathering, hosted to gather previous students together and to officially welcome the two new editions into the community. After some 20th edition nostalgia (thanks to an incredible film made by our very own Japanese broadcaster, Taizo Uchida) the FMA hosted a panel event discussing the job market in the sports world, with three leading experts from the industry. 

Soon after, the formal proceedings ended and the party began, with 75+ alumni meeting for drinks, snacks and lake views at Cafe des Amis. Alumni from the 1st edition to the 22nd mingled and chatted sharing experiences and stories, and it was incredible to finally experience the alumni community at such scale! 

After our evening of celebration, the FMA organised mini-golf and brunch at the lake, with varying levels of golfing prowess on show. The winner was David Squires (UK) of the 12th edition, and we said our goodbyes lake-side as the week came to an end! Our trips home began both near and far, from Zurich to Zimbabwe, as future reunions were put in calendars and best wishes shared.

Reflecting on the reunion, the visits and the experiences across Switzerland during the week, on behalf of the 20th edition I would like to thank everyone at CIES and the FMA for making this dream a reality! It meant so much to us all to gather again, reminiscing about the past and planning for the future, and was only possible thanks to such incredible hospitality and the FIFA Master family.

To finish with the words of a fellow classmate: “it’s never a goodbye, but a see you later! We can now say we are the only edition that has done two FIFA Masters! Hasta la victoria siempre!” 

- James Cronin, Class of 2020 

The 20th Edition of the FIFA Master comprised of 32 students from 28 nationalities. They are as follows: 

ASSUME ASSUME Serge (Gabon), BILALI Sara (Morocco), BREVÉ MAZZONI Luis (Honduras / USA), CARRERA LANFRANCHI Dagiorto (Peru), CHUGH Yash (India), CRONIN James (Great Britain), DARAWSHA Sanaa (Israel), DAYDE Grégoire (France), DESAI Muhammed Ziyaad (Botswana), GOCO Michael Kevin (Philippines), GOÏC Pacôme (France), HOLMES Stephanie (Australia), HWANG Isak (South Korea), JUBANE Violet (Zimbabwe), JUDD Laura (Australia), KAPUR Rishab (India), LEE Jean Eunhye (South Korea / Canada), MARKOVIC Igor Tomislav (Italy / Bosnia / Croatia / Serbia), MARTINEZ Diego (Chile), MATSUO Alexandre (France / Japan), MUGABE Bonnie (Rwanda), QARAQRA Mahmoud (Palestine), SALVESTRINI RASKOV Gustav (Argentina / USA / Italy), SCHIPPERS Evita (Netherlands), SCOTT Tyson (Australia), UCHIDA Taizo (Japan), URBINA Erika (Costa Rica), VAGHJEE Caitkie Ranchhordas (Mauritius), VAN HELLEMONT Bruno (Belgium), VIAUD Alexe (France), YI Han Bits (South Korea), YOUNG DE LACERDA TAVARES Eduardo (Portugal / Germany).