Since 2013, the International Children’s Social Programme, Football for Friendship, or F4F for short, has gone beyond borders to unite younger generations.
The aim of the programme, which is organized by Gazprom, is to promote a healthy lifestyle and essential human values, such as friendship, peace and equality. It organises sporting and educational events all over the world.
The programme's events usually take place in open spaces and on football pitches packed with children from varying backgrounds all eager to share their experiences. But this year, like so many other sport industries, Football for Friendship has had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, in 2020, the programme’s key events went online. Throughout the entire season, young players and journalists from different countries took part remotely in numerous activities.
Alexey Yaroshevsky is a sports journalist and an ambassador for F4F.
He told Euronews how the children participating had really taken to the online events:
"They were pretty excited that they were still given the opportunity to interact.
"I’ve communicated with some of them and they’ve been pretty much delighted about the fact that in these times, they are still able to be friends and meet people from across the world."
Various national lockdowns have given birth to the Football For Friendship's ‘Good News Show’, which sees young reporters from all over the world contributing lighthearted bulletins to lift the viewers’ spirits in times of uncertainty.
Reporters touch on numerous themes, such as sport, music, wildlife and entertainment. The aim is simple; to educate whilst bringing positive vibes and raising a smile or two.
Anna Shishkova is also a journalist on the Football For Friendship team and she describes The Good News Show as being "full of different and interesting things and facts. You can enjoy it, have fun, learn new things and have wonderful memories’’.
Instagram users are also able to interact with Football For Friendship ‘Good Stories’, as this show gives participants the opportunity to share their experiences, hobbies and give insight into their culture. It also provides a glimpse of football freestylers showing off their skills and tricks as part of ‘the stadium is where I am’ project.
Anton Pavlinov is a two-time football freestyle world champion and he describes his reasons for taking part as "to motivate kids to do sport no matter what the conditions (...) I’m trying to pass on my knowledge, so that they can learn football freestyle and get new skills whilst staying home. I think it worked really well!"
All that the children need to take part is a ball, a camera and a will to share talent. It doesn’t take much for technical geniuses to teach other young football lovers the secrets of their art.
Melody Donchet is a six-time football freestyle World Champion and she is one such genius.
She gives some helpful tips on the practice:
"Freestyle can be played anywhere, even in a house because I give lessons in my living room!
"There's no need for a lot of space, there's no need for a football pitch.
"You just need a small area of 3 or 4 square meters.
"For the children who are learning, just don’t do too much juggling near the TV!’’
Many famous athletes have also joined in the fun. Former French international player and Arsenal legend, Robert Pires, recently showcased his collection of tricks online.
Football for Friendship is backed by major sport organisations such as UEFA, FIFA and the IOC. It has united over 6000 participants from 211 different countries and regions. Since its launch seven years ago, the project has gained over five million supporters. It is hoping to continue with its success and spread its values to even more people in the future both on and off the pitch.