FC Barcelona stars celebrate renewed partnership with UNICEF
By MP Nunan
DALLAS, Texas, USA, 8 August 2011 – Appearing before an audience of pint-sized fans, soccer stars David Villa and Thiago Alcántara of Football Club Barcelona came prepared to be questioned.
VIDEO: 5 August 2011 - UNICEF correspondent MP Nunan reports on a visit to Dallas, Texas by football stars David Villa and Thiago Alcántara to celebrate the renewed partnership between FC Barcelona and UNICEF.
“Did you play any other sports as a kid?”
“What was your work ethic when you guys were young – like, my age?”
“What advice would you have to give for a young soccer player who wants to get better?”
Those were just a few of the queries that the audience – all soccer players and fans ranging from about 4 to 12 years of age – threw at Mr. Villa and Mr. Alcántara at a UNICEF-sponsored event in Dallas on 5 August.
‘The best you can be’
Both players helped Spain emerge victorious in the 2010 World Cup championship – and Mr. Villa contributed to the club’s 2008 UEFA European Football Championship win – in addition to playing for FC Barcelona in the Spanish national league.
In response to the girl who asked for advice, Mr. Alcántara said: “As long as you are happy and passionate about what you are doing, you will always develop your skills to be the best you can be.”
Child rights through sport
The visit to Dallas celebrated the renewal of the partnership between UNICEF and FC Barcelona, which began in 2006. The partnership – an agreement to promote children’s rights through sport – focuses on the fight against HIV and AIDS, with a special emphasis on programmes in Malawi, Swaziland and Angola, which have high HIV prevalence rates.
FC Barcelona also helps UNICEF in times of immediate crisis, including the current famine in Somalia, where UNICEF and its partners are working to feed more than half a million malnourished children.
“The partnership with Barcelona is giving us tremendous visibility with the challenges we face on the Horn of Africa,” said UNICEF’s Deputy Director of Operations and Finance, Lawrence Picard, speaking in Dallas.
And Barça itself, as a club, is also communicating with fans about the Horn of Africa crisis and the work that UNICEF is doing to address it, noted Mr. Picard.
Athletes give back
Mr. Villa said he believes all elite athletes have an obligation to give back to those who are less fortunate.
“Sincerely, it doesn’t require a big effort from us to help these organizations,” he said. “Not only that, but at least for me, it’s an honour to work with an organization like this one and try, from a long distance, to help children that are in great need.”
Anyone who is surprised that the two Barça stars received a hero’s welcome in Dallas shouldn’t be, according to Melissa Reddick, Director of Foundation and Community Relations at Football Club Dallas – the US Major League Soccer team that helped organize the event.
“The north Texas area is a huge hotbed for soccer,” said Ms. Reddick. “I can’t think of one child that probably hasn’t started playing at the age of four, and a lot of them stay with it.”
FC Dallas and Major League Soccer Works, the US league’s charitable arm, share the same overall goal as UNICEF and FC Barcelona: to use sport as a means of improving children’s well-being. In the United States, the goal is keeping children active.
“Obesity is a huge issue in America, and of course, all the symptoms that come with obesity, diabetes and such, so it’s a huge initiative,” said Ms. Reddick. “And soccer – it’s such a physical sport. It’s more physical than most sports. So that’s why it’s a natural fit for this.”