Saturday 30 June 2018, 21:06

FIFA Foundation Festival shows power of football to change lives

  • Tournament at Moscow's Red Square a highlight of ten-day festival

  • Fair play at the forefront for 48 NGOs participating

  • Young leaders make memories to last a lifetime

For some people, playing football completes them. Just ask 16-year-old Abu Sesey from Freetown who tragically lost his right leg when he was five years old during a conflict in his native Sierra Leone: “Football is what I love. When I’m playing, I feel complete. I feel like I have no amputation. I feel like we are all equal."

Sesey is one of the many young people from around the world taking part in the FIFA Foundation Festival in Moscow this week, capped off with a football tournament in Red Square on Friday.

His is a unique story, but it illustrates a common theme around what all of the participants can teach us – that football has the power to unite, inspire and change lives.

“Football is much more than a game. It’s a fantastic tool to make sure this world becomes a better place,” stressed FIFA's Head of Sustainability and Diversity Federico Addiechi speaking at the festival, which brings together 48 non-governmental organisations from 38 countries not only for the football tournament, but also a leadership programme held prior.

Several FIFA Legends attended the ten-day FIFA Foundation Festival, including Karina LeBlanc (Canada), Roberto Carlos (Brazil), Christian Karembeu (France), Stipe Pletikosa (Croatia) and Dimitry Sennikov (Russia).

“This is an opportunity for FIFA to highlight organisations that are supporting us day in and day out, over many years, using football to tackle social issues. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for the young people who have been chosen because of their leadership potential and commitment to drive positive change,” added Addiechi.

Breaking down barriers Kenyan lawyer and peace activist Fatuma Adan, who led a delegation from the Horn of Africa Development Initiative, knows all about the transformative power of football. After experiencing tribal conflict in her childhood, she introduced the programme “Shoot to score, not to kill” to help break the vicious cycle of violence in northern Kenya.

“It’s about taking away the AK47 and replacing it with a ball,” explained Adan.

“There’s a curriculum that goes along with the league. After the games, we have a dialogue on issues around violence and gender. Football makes it easier to get through to young people, and it has the power to connect beyond colour, tribe, race, religion.”

Adan has been instrumental in paving the way for girls to play football while also raising awareness about taboo topics such as female genital mutilation (FGM).

“It’s very rare to see Muslim women playing football. Growing up, because of culture and religion, no girl was allowed to play sport. As a Muslim woman, I wanted to open doors for others. We are also working to break the silence on issues we’re not allowed to talk about. FGM is illegal, but it’s still happening, it’s hidden. We can bring this issue out through football. We’ve broken the silence, then hopefully we will get to the point where we will stop it,” said Adan.

A dream come true Like many of the young players, Amreen Taj had never been outside her country before the festival. She travelled from Bangalore, India, with the Dream a Dream Foundation, which empowers young people from vulnerable backgrounds to overcome adversity and flourish.

“It’s the first time I went on a plane. I can’t believe I’m in Russia, I’m so happy to be here,” said Taj.

“Teamwork, equality and celebration,” is how she summed up football3 – the methodology dreamt up by streetfootballworld that the teams followed during the festival. In football3, mixed teams decide the rules before they play and then come together at the final whistle to reflect on their behaviour, with goals and fair play points counting towards the final score. It is helping to change lives around the world.

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