FIFA officially kicked off the Football for Hope Festival this Monday (7 July) in the Caju Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro. Until 10 July, 32 teams created by community leaders from 25 countries vie for a title in a sports competition in which boys and girls play on the same team and wining is one of the least expected results by the contestants.
“They say the World Cup has 12 stadiums. That is not true. This is stadium number 13. [The event] is played in the spirit of fair play with no referees, so it means there are no discussions. This is a different side of football. It is its essence," said FIFA President Joseph Blatter. He highlighted the fact that the teams themselves decide the rules of the match before kickoff - they may define that all goals must include participation from a girl, for instance, that both teams celebrate the goals, or that each foul needs to be decided by dialogue.
“A hundred years ago, many of these flags were fighting in World War I. Today, they are here for an event that promotes peace," said the executive secretary of the Ministry of Sport, Luiz Fernandes. “The Caju used to be an area overrun with drug trafficking, and now this event adds to all other social benefits it has received in recent years after the pacification. It is a very symbolic celebration," he added.
The festival's program, running from July 2 to 6, includes a series of cultural and educational activities to foster the integration of delegations. This Wednesday, former player Ronaldo, member of the World Cup Local Organising Committee (LOC), made the official kick-off of the event's first match and also shared some of his story with the children attending the festival.
“Football has changed my life. I studied as far as I could in school, and then it was the school of life that taught me things through football. Enjoy this wonderful opportunity you have here to be part of a World Cup," said the five-times world champion.
FIFA's Football for Hope festival was first launched in 2005, and has since invested over US$ 36 million in 426 programs in 78 countries. The initiative currently supports 26 projects in Brazil, and offers training and capacity building coupled with education on HIV/AIDS, conflict resolution, gender equality, social inclusion, promotion of peace, youth leadership and life skills.