Tuesday 06 December 2022, 09:00

FIFA Football for Schools, children and legends at the Doha Olympic and Sports Museum

  • The programme has a space for activations at the impressive 3-2-1 Olympic and Sports Museum in Doha

  • On Monday, two FIFA Legends participated with children

  • Football as a social tool, centre stage

Three Syrian boys and a Qatari girl waited for their turn. On the mini-pitch, two Japanese brothers practiced a session of FIFA Football for Schools exercises with Swiss FIFA Legends Valon Behrami and Alain Sutter. “Don’t forget to play as a team,” said Antonio Buenano Sanchez paternally, the project consultant and coordinator of the F4S area at the 3-2-1 Olympic and Sports Museum in Doha. Shotar, six, and Yutaro, nine, were wearing Japan shirts because later they would be heading to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ round of 16 match against Croatia with their parents. Neither could have imagined that they would end up playing with two former World Cup internationals in the interactive area of the museum, nor that they would end up winning a set of red and yellow cards thanks to a simple quiz. Both were delighted because, “they’re just like the ones the referees use in World Cup matches”. “The idea isn’t for the children to come, kick a ball around and go, but that, through the Football for Schools activities, they learn something else,” said Buenano Sanchez. “This is a project in which education plays a fundamental role. That’s why, although they get a badge and a pendant for participating, we organise a mini test where they have to answer about the social side of the activities they took part in. And if they do well, they’re rewarded with the cards.”

Since opening on 22 November, some 2,500 children of different ages and nationalities have passed through F4S, and it is hoped that number will reach more than 7,000 by the end of the World Cup. “We want everyone to leave here feeling like they’ve learned something on the pitch, but also with some value or life skill that helps them in their everyday lives,” added Buenano Sanchez. Sutter, who played a leading role in the Swiss team that reached the Round of 16 at USA 1994, was impressed by the experience and by the fact that the programme aims to train the coaches and educators who, with the help of an app, will then work with the children. “You can’t separate football from education but the job of combining the two is up to the coaches,” said the former central midfielder, who made his senior debut with the Nati aged just 17. “And it’s not just football that’s a fantastic tool: all sports should be used to teach lessons that will stand them in good stead throughout their lives.”

What values did football teach him? “A lot, but if I have to pick one out it would be respect. For yourself, for your team-mate, for your opponent, both when you win and when you lose.”

Legends Valon Behrami and Alain Sutter attend the Football for Schools Activities

Behrami, who was born in Kosovo, recognises that football had a pivotal role in his life. “As an immigrant, when I arrived in Switzerland I started to understand that the culture, the system and education was different through sport,” said the former footballer, who participated at four consecutive World Cups between 2006 and 2018. “I understood that we could all be different but that we could all make the difference,” said Behrami, who hung up his boots as a professional earlier this year. “That was the easiest way for me, as a child, to learn all these things.” The time arrives for the three Syrian boys and the Qatari girl to have their turn. The exercises vary a little, but the enthusiasm is the same. The laughter and the lessons continue beyond the badges, pendants and yellow and red cards. Buenano Sanchez is pleased, the setting is appropriate. “We’re at a World Cup, what better time to show that Football for Schools is a project with which FIFA is aiming to reach its 211 member associations to make football truly global? We believe we can reach a lot of children throughout the world with this programme and offer the opportunity to have a first contact with soccer in a fun way and without forgetting the formation in values, which is the ultimate objective.”