Friday 30 November 2018, 22:19

Celeste heroines thrill the next generation

  • Players from Uruguay visited children who will be performing at closing ceremony

  • Students at Escuela 355 learned about the players' experience at Uruguay 2018

  • The Celeste players signed autographs for their young fans

“Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating.” The words of former basketball coach, John Wooden, sprung to mind while standing in a schoolyard on the outskirts of Montevideo.

As the sixth FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup draws towards its climax in Uruguay, the question of event legacy is a pertinent one.

Is it to leave behind shiny new facilities? Should it be that the players who have represented their countries use this as a springboard for long and successful careers? Or can it be both those things, plus something less tangible but just as important, like inspiring others?

Working at a sporting event, most operational staff only get to see the parts of a city that lie between their hotel and the stadium. Escuela 355 is located in a part of Montevideo far from that beaten track. Recently, five of the players who represented Uruguay at this tournament stopped by the school to share their experiences during the last three weeks with some of the children.

Upon arrival, the children aged from five to ten were dancing and practising a song they will perform at the closing ceremony. Guided by their energetic teachers at the front, the children swayed to the music, as the Uruguayan flag fluttered in the breeze above them.

As they finished, one of the teachers reached for a microphone and introduced Esperanza Pizarro, Valentina Morales, Solcire Pazos, Daniela Olivera and Juliana Viera. In turn, each player explained what it had meant to represent the host country. You could hear a pin drop as the children listened to the players.

On the school walls, posters and drawings showed how the children had been learning about the tournament. One young boy proudly got up to present one of his own. Then it was time for the pupils to ask questions, some refusing to shy away from tough lines of questioning. “How did you feel after losing your opening game 5-0 to Ghana?,” one ten-year-old asked to collective gasps from the teachers. Olivera followed up with a passionate and eloquent response –it's easy to forget these poised young women are only 16- or 17-years-old.

As the afternoon concluded, three things happened that will leave a lasting memory. Firstly, five of the youngest children presented a small plant to each of the five players to thank them for visiting. Next, everyone joined in together for a rousing rendition of Uruguay Nomá. Then, the abiding image. Before the players could leave, a small and inquisitive group of girls and boys crowded around them.

They asked the players more questions, begged the young Celeste to sign autographs. If they didn’t have a piece of paper, they offered their clothes. Once teachers had intervened for fear of upsetting parents, a bare arm was put forward just to prove when they went home who had visited school that day.

Last month, FIFA launched its first Women’s Football Strategy. FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura said she hoped “it will make football more accessible to girls and women and encourage female empowerment, a subject of great importance, now more than ever before.”

Seeing the looks in the eyes of some young Uruguayan girls today, we think Esperanza, Valentine, Solcire, Daniela and Juliana may have done just that. For that reason alone this tournament’s legacy will live on long after the final ball is kicked, the trophy lifted, and the stadium lights turned off for the last time.