Football for Friendship Children's Forum
Lengo 12-year-olds Laigwanani Mollel and Ziporah Mollel bid a spectacular farewell yesterday (Wednesday) to the Football For Friendship International Children's Social Programme in Moscow, Russia - with just the World Cup opening ceremony and opening game to come.
They were among 1500 children and around 1000 adult chaperones and delegates from 211 countries at the pre-World Cup children's event who packed the amphitheatre at the Moskvarium marine life centre for a show-stopping prizegiving and send off.
In a piece of creative staging the like of which the Arusha children can barely have imagined, let alone experienced, the 'F4F' Children's Forum used the slick show deck of the main aquarium as a central stage for 90 minutes of speechmaking, entertainment and award presentations. The most coveted trophy, for displaying F4F's key Nine Values, was won by Brazil after being delivered from above the audience by a white-robed celestial courier suspended amid an airborne trapeze ballet, and then by rowing boat to the stage. A grand finale performed by three killer whales breaching and leaping in formation crowned an unforgettable evening.
There was a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin, and legendary Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas was on hand to give his own personal endorsement to the Gazprom-sponsored event. Other speakers included Russian Under 17s manager and former international striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov.
The competition prizes were scooped by players of the winning Chimpanze team - all 32 teams were named after endangered animals to promote conservation - and those of losing finalists Kimodo Dragon.
Before the final show the children and other guests had the run of the aquarium's marine exhibits and special displays of gifts from the 211 invited countries, as well as an art gallery with a football theme, and video and other exhibits. It ranged across three floors, as media milled around, interviewing participants, and new-found friends stopped for photo opportunities using mobile phones.
Earlier in the day Ziporah, who was selected as a Young Journalist, had said: "I love playing football but I have also liked learning about and discussing the Nine Values, like peace, honour, friendship and tradition. Friendship and peace are my favourites. Peace is important in life and to countries. Friendship is to make a friend.
"I have been happy just to be here," she added, and said the competition finals day had been great fun. But then came yesterday's grand farewell.
Today, Laigwanani has the honour of representing Tanzania as flag carrier in the official opening ceremony of the 2018 World Cup finals, before the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia at Moscow's, Luzhniki Stadium.
By Dominic Biggs
*Tune in today/tonight for the World Cup 2018 Opening Ceremony to see Laigwanani, Luca Durso from Australia, Jonty Burgraaff from New Zealand and our Pacific Islands young players representing their countries in the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Russia.
In Australia watch SBS from 10.30pm AEST.