All children have a dream and for some that dream is to become a professional footballer and one day lift up a trophy.
This dream could well start right here at the Football for Friendship program.
During the weekend of the Champions League final in Lisbon more than 400 youngsters, between 12 and 14-years-old, from across Europe, participated in the second edition of Football For Friendship, the International Children’s Forum organized by Gazprom.
Sixteen teams and European football academies took to the pitch, playing for victory in the Street Soccer tournament.
But principally the Forum helps the kids make friends, learn to respect each other, to share a unique moment together and pass on these values to their peers.
Franz Beckenbauer, Global Ambassador of the project, explained to euronews that ‘sport has the power to change the world’.
Beckenbauer said: “Nelson Mandela was the man who said this. I think he’s right. And you have here the best example. There are 16 teams, from 16 different countries, they don’t know each other, they speak in different languages, there are different (skin) colors and religions. But give them something, give them a ball and they’ll start to play, they’ll respect each other, and this is very very important.”
Tradition, fair play, peace, friendship, health, equality, victory and commitment. These are the fundamental values which the organizers and the ambassadors of this program want to teach to the younger generations.
Vitor Baia, former Portugal goalkeeper, champions these values and added: ‘‘Friendship, equality and a healthy life style. Then another important thing is the studies and teaching. It’s really important to transmit to these children the importance of studying and the fact that if they want to be somebody in the future, they should be careful.”
The road to change in football is long and heavily marked by some of today’s less desirable aspects of the sport. But Vyacheslav Krupenkov believes the Forum is a great starting point.
The Senior Managing Director of Gazprom Germany said: ‘‘I’m not sure that this Forum will manage to change football, but at least it can change attitudes, because we can see that on the football pitch there’s still racism, and other bad things connected to violence. We hope that our children will realize that football is a good and friendly game.”
It’s a unique event which could help these youngsters in growing up and staying out of trouble. And according to former Ukraine captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk why not have fun in the process.
Tymoshchuk said: “For me this is a very important event. I came here with great pleasure, because young players have this opportunity to play in such a tournament. I think it’s a great idea, when I was young I didn’t have such an opportunity.”
The winners of the tournament were Portuguese side Benfica who, later on Saturday and together with all the other teams, took a dream trip to the the Estadio da Luz and watched Real Madrid beat Atletico madrid to win the Champions League – the club’s 10th European Cup title.
Perhaps one day one of these children could take the place of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi as icons of world football.
Their journey towards this dream has already begun.