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Weah's commitment to humanitarian activities, especially in Africa, has earned him the admiration of many.

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Internationally known soccer player George Manneh Weah was named UNICEF Special Representative for Sports on 7 April 1997 in Milan (Italy). On accepting his new responsibilities, Weah commented "Today one of my dreams has come true - to become part of the UNICEF family." He knows first hand the needs of children in difficult circumstances, having grown up in Liberia's impoverished capital, Monrovia, where he first learned to play soccer by kicking a homemade rag balls.

Weah's spectacular style of soccer playing led him to win the Golden Ball award (awarded to the best European player) and the Italian National Championship in 1995 when he played in Italy for the prestigious club AC Milan. While playing for Monaco, he won his first French Cup. He won two more between 1993 and 1995, as well as the French National Championship in 1994 playing for the Paris Saint-Germain team.

Weah's first national championship was in 1987 when he played with the Tonnere Yaounde team in Cameroon. Weah played with AC Milan from 1995 to 1999, and was the top scorer at the European Football League in 1996. He was also named African Footballer of the Year in 1996 and World Player of the Year in 1995 by international football's ruling body, FIFA. The magazine French Football and the Confederation of African Football both voted Weah Footballer of the Year in 1995. Among the many awards presented to him is the FIFA "Fair Play Award," which he received in 1996.

Weah's commitment to humanitarian activities, especially in Africa, has earned him the admiration of many, including Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa who has called him the 'African Pride'. "Young people look at me with respect - commented George - and they trust me. I will tell children what I know and what UNICEF believes is important to tell them."

Weah is President of The Junior Professionals, a football team he founded in Monrovia in 1994, whose aim is to give young people the opportunity to practise sports. As a way to encourage young people to remain in school, the club's only requirement for membership is school attendance. Many of the young people, recruited from all over Liberia, have gone on to play football for Liberia's national team - the Lone Star - and other international teams.

UNICEF has benefited from Weah's involvement since 1994, when he actively participated in the organization's immunization campaigns in Liberia. He helped produce messages that were carried across the country encouraging mothers to bring their children for vaccinations.

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  Weah walks around the stadium at half-match with a group of young people.

Since his appointment as a Special Representative for Sports, Weah has visited UNICEF-supported programmes in Ghana and Liberia. While in Liberia in June 1997 to coach Lone Star for the first international match to be played there since the start of the war, Weah joined with UNICEF to help children and advocate for their rights. He has also joined in the alliance of UNICEF, the National AIDS Control Programme in Liberia, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Liberian Football Association, which is using sports as a vehicle to highlight the dangers of HIV/AIDS. Prior to the June match, Weah prepared public service announcements, which were aired on the nation-wide radio broadcasts before, during and after the match. He walked around the stadium at half-time with a large group of children who carried banners warning people of the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

Visiting Ghana, also in June 1997, Weah participated in football clinics with two juvenile teams, one girl and one boy, in an inner city area of Accra where UNICEF has a community-based project, which includes HIV/AIDS education. The clinics were organized jointly by the Ghana Football Association, the National Youth Organization, the National AIDS/STD Control Programme, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), UNICEF and other interested parties.

In April 2000, Weah visited Liberia to support a massive social mobilization for war-affected Liberian children through universal child immunization, HIV/AIDS Prevention and Accelerated Learning Campaigns. He met with war-affected youths from the Children's Assistance Program, attended a press conference and participated in a radio talk show. In June, at the United Nations in New York, he prepared radio and television public service announcements on HIV/AIDS for use in Africa and elsewhere as part of the UN Works campaign. In July, he returned to Liberia and led Lone Star to victory over Nigeria. The stadium where the match was played was filled with banners, flags and children wearing t-shirts with messages: "Kick Polio Out of Liberia, Kick Polio Out of Africa" and "Liberia Wants War No More." The match received extensive press and media coverage. After the game, Weah launched the Rotary International/UNICEF/George Weah National Football Trophy for Under-18s. The theme of the trophy in 2000 is polio, and in 2001 HIV/AIDS. Weah also visited several UNICEF-supported projects and spoke with children about the need to have hope, self-discipline and determination.

 

 
© UNICEF / Photo taken from the TV spot  The power of football  by Leonardo Ricagni
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