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