UNICEF praises soccer’s world body for helping improve lot of neediest children

20 May 2004 – On the 100th anniversary of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today paid tribute to the organization for harnessing the power of a little leather ball to improve the lives of the world’s neediest children.

“FIFA has really stepped up for children by recognizing that soccer is more than just a game,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. “In a world where far too many children suffer from poverty, armed conflict and AIDS, soccer can help rescue the part of childhood that includes the right to play.”

The alliance between UNICEF and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association began in 1999, and in 2002 FIFA dedicated the World Cup to UNICEF’s Say Yes for Children campaign. Nearly 95 million children and adults from around the world pledged their support during the campaign for the things all children need and should have.

This year UNICEF and FIFA will focus on bringing attention to the security of children affected by conflict. Football will be used to help build a protective environment for children – bringing communities together, rehabilitating former soldiers, providing safe places for children to vent frustrations and stress through play.

“Soccer is one of the few things that children adore that is actually good for them,” Ms. Bellamy said. “It teaches them peaceful ways to resolve conflicts, brings some normalcy to the lives of children affected by violence and natural disasters, and encourages physical and emotional development.”

In many countries, UNICEF uses soccer to educate children about HIV/AIDS, such as in Futbol para la Vida (Football for Life), an AIDS education programme in Honduras. In Colombia, UNICEF supports Futbol para la Paz (Football for Peace), a country-wide programme using the game to bridge communities. And during the armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Georgia, Sudan and the Balkans, football helped children cope with the stress and insecurity of conflict.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2003 was dedicated to UNICEF’s education campaign and FIFA donated more than 600 “sport-in-a-box” kits containing everything needed for a game to support UNICEF worldwide programmes to help get as many girls as boys into school. In Guinea and Djibouti, for example, UNICEF is using the kits as a way of empowering girls and changing attitudes towards them.

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