|© Joan Simó/2010|
|Football star and newly appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lionel ‘Leo’ Messi with children from the FC Barcelona Soccer School.|
By Kate Donovan and David Koch
BARCELONA, Spain, 11 March 2010 – Lionel ‘Leo’ Messi, one of FC Barcelona’s bright young stars – and a member of the Argentine national football team – joined the ranks of celebrated UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors today.
In a sun-filled room above Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s legendary home in the heart of the Catalonian capital, the 22-year-old footballer signed a two-year commitment to work on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable children. Three hundred people attended the packed event – including UNICEF staff, government officials, family members, teammates, FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta, Mr. Messi’s coach, a passel of journalists and a dozen very excited schoolchildren.
‘Ready to do everything I can’
“I know there are a lot of children that have diseases, many that don’t have an education, many that don’t have good nutrition. I am ready to do everything I can to help them in my collaboration with UNICEF,¨ said the newly minted Goodwill Ambassador.
“We are very proud and very excited to welcome you to the UNICEF family,” Director of Private Fundraising and Partnerships Philip O´Brien told Mr. Messi, speaking on behalf of Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “This is a commitment you are making not to UNICEF, but to children,” he added.
Mr. O´Brien noted that Messi’s youth gives him special influence with young people. “They will listen to you, when they won’t listen to me. Even my own kids will listen to you before they listen to me,¨ he joked.
|© Joan Simó/2010|
|Leo Messi receives his Goodwill Ambassador appointment from UNICEF Director of Private Fundraising and Partnerships Philip O’Brien as FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta applauds.|
FC Barcelona has shown deep commitment to UNICEF and its mission. Through the FC Barcelona Foundation, the club runs educational programmes at its stadium, where local schoolchildren learn about fair play, health and education – and gain a solid appreciation of ‘the beautiful game,’ as football is often called.
In 2006, FC Barcelona signed an agreement with UNICEF that placed the agency´s logo across the front of its team jerseys, earning the club the distinction of being the first sports team to use its uniforms to advocate for a cause, rather than advertise a commercial sponsor.
Beyond agreeing to display the UNICEF logo, the club pledged $5 million to HIV and AIDS programmes; it has committed another $3 million over the next three years. Some of that funding will go to Haiti, where families and communities are struggling to rebuild from the devastating earthquake in January.
Illustrious history of support
Mr. Messi joins a list of extraordinary UNICEF ambassadors and spokespersons, including Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, the agency’s first Eminent Advocate for Children, as well as Goodwill Ambassadors David Beckham, Orlando Bloom, Mia Farrow, Danny Glover, Sir Roger Moore and Shakira, among many others.
For decades, Goodwill Ambassadors have helped improve the lives of children and women around the world by creating public awareness of youth issues and helping to mobilize resources for UNICEF.
“It is a great honour for FC Barcelona that one of our players, who embodies our club values and played on our youth teams since he was 13, today becomes a global Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF,” said FC Barcelona President Laporta. “We will help him to be a great Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, and he will have all of our support.”
Mr. Messi will commence his activities as an ambassador with a planned trip to his native Argentina, the home of the Leo Messi Foundation, which supports access to education and health care for vulnerable children.