Supported by UEFA, FIFA, the International Olympic Committee and many other key figures and organisations, the International Children’s Social Programme Football for Friendship (F4F) has been organised by Gazprom since 2013.
The programme aims to bring cultures together to promote fundamental values. And, as 15-year-old published author Ananya Kamboj, who is taking part, says: "If everyone followed them, we could have peace."
“The way my life changed after participating in this programme... I could have never imagined,” she added.
The programme has brought together more than 6,000 participants and earned more than 5 million followers, including famous athletes, artists and politicians.
Amongst them is football legend Roberto Carlos, former Real Madrid defender. “Football for Friendship’s work is truly incredible,” he said at a press conference during the event’s forum in Madrid.
The size and scope of F4F projects are vast, with hundreds of children participating from around the world and many coming from countries and regions with precarious security situations.
Vladimir Serov, global director of the Gazprom International Children’s Social Programme Football for Friendship, laughs when asked about the organisation of the event. "It’s a lot of people. Around 40 offices make it happen,” he said. Understandable when more than 200 countries have participated in the initiative since its foundation.
The beauty of the programme lies not just in the opportunity to attend events such as the Champion’s League final, which the children will be going to this weekend, but in the impact F4F and its cross-cultural environment has on children and their view of the world.
“It really does go beyond the children," explains Serov. "It also changes the parents. More than once we’ve received requests from representatives asking their children not be seated or put together with others from a certain country. But then we remind them that the name of the event is Football for Friendship, and they give in”.
Participants agree that the programme is a powerful instrument, “which not only helps to destroy social and economic barriers but also helps us understand ourselves and others around us".
“It’s impossible to bring all the children of the world to Football for Friendship, but [in] teaching the values and essence of our programme, everyone can take it back home,” says Serov.
Miquel Puig, CEO of the Soccer Barcelona Youth Academy CEO, calls F4F “a movement," adding: "They really are changing the world – and the minds of thousands.”