We are changing the world!
Football-loving children from Australia, New Zealand and almost a dozen Pacific Islands nations were among those from an unprecedented 211 countries for a global sporting event, who came together at a suburban sports field in Moscow, tasked with nothing less than “changing the world”.
Their mere presence there for the pre-World Cup Football For Friendship Children’s Social Programme represented a step towards that lofty goal.
The 1500 children and their delegations had between them travelled millions of miles, from near and far, large and small nations, old and new, rich and poor; in some cases from officially warring nations and from ideologically opposed nations with differing cultures, races and religions. But they found common ground at the Spartak City Football Academy, ablaze with noise, colourful flags, and fun.
The children all wore the friendship band, two simple strands of tied wool: blue to represent a serene cloudless sky; and green for the field of play. They were divided into 32 teams of friendship, each named after an officially endangered wild animal, to help raise environmental awareness. After a flag parade and demonstration of team rallying chants, the young participants, of both genders and all ability levels, had time to make new friends as they took part in ‘masterclasses’, including photography and news story writing for the Young Journalists, and training for the football players. The group also met celebrities like synchronised swimming Olympic champion Gelena Topilina.
The F4F format allows for two 12-year-olds from each country – a player and a journalist – and/or an older coach, up to age 16, accompanied by up to two adult chaperones, all fully sponsored by the organisation.
F4F is a social project supported by Russia’s Gazprom energy company. In a speech to a crowd of around 1,000 comprising mainly parents and other chaperones, Football For Friendship Global Director Vladimir Serov was eager to stress: “Football For Friendship is not about politics.”
In an increasingly impassioned address, he continued: “It is just about sport, about friendship and about fun of course.
“In one team, playing together, [there are] kids of different nationalities, different genders, different physical abilities.
“I believe together we will be able to help them, our young participants, to find new friends from different countries, to learn how to play together, how to live together … and I believe they will show to people what the world could be, without discrimination, without racism, war and violence.
“Football For Friendship: we are changing the world. Thank you."
The 211 countries at the sixth, and by far largest, annual ‘F4F’ event, is the same number of nations as in the FIFA world rankings list and is more than have ever been assembled for any Olympics; indeed more than the number of National Olympic Committees there are in existence (206). It is also more than the 193 member countries of the United Nations.
In a prodigious feat of diplomacy and logistics they all came, from places as disparate as Cape Verde, Comoros and Cote d’Ivoire, to Mongolia, Tahiti and Tajikistan. Scarcely a country it is possible to name was not represented in Moscow.
Many participants, from tiny, remote nations had travelled for literally days to be there. Delegations from Liberia in west Africa and from Papua New Guinea were still in transit. The Cook Islanders, in their evocative floral prints and garlands, left their home on Tuesday last week, crossed the international dateline and were airborne for a total of almost 30 hours, plus stopovers in New Zealand and Qatar, to find the working week was over by the time they reached their hotel in Moscow.
Like all the others they arrived blinking into an endless Russian summer’s day and a battery of pre-World Cup press flashlights, ready to change the world.
By Dominic Biggs