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September 2004, Kyrgyz youth thrilled at Blatter's visit to Bishkek, where FIFA head opens new football stadium

© UNICEF/KIRA-04/Dubanaev
Teams playing in final games are vivid examples that the sport is more than just a game. It promotes a positive lifestyle and provides healthy ways to keep the young away from drugs, unsafe sex and violence.

Joseph Blatter, the President of FIFA, arrived in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on a sunny September day. His official one-day visit on 16 September - part of a tour of Central Asia - excited young footballers in this city of less than a million people. He opened Bishkek's brand new stadium, packed with government officials, Kyrgyz footballers and fans to watch young people compete in tournaments. The National Football Centre was built from FIFA funds.

It was a special event for the young footballers and it was especially pleasing to see the girls participating in the sport as well. All those who made speeches said that these boys and girls are the source of great hope for the future development of football in the country, as well as being key players in helping to solve the problems of young people, including drug abuse, HIV/AIDS infection and violence.

UNICEF and the Kyrgyz Football Federation kicked off their cooperation in January this year, dedicating the biggest youth championship in Kyrgyzstan, The Kyrgyz President's Cup, to the need to create healthier lifestyles among young people. The Cup, which takes place every year from April to the end of August, was held under the slogan 'Kyrgyz Young Football Players against Drugs and HIV/AIDS'.**

On 16 September, the campaign organizers saw some of the results of their efforts. Richard Young, UNICEF Resident Representative in the Kyrgyz Republic, was greatly solicited by smiling adolescents who wanted to share their thoughts on the training they'd done in this past year's matches. In the Kyrgyz President's Cup, there are tournaments among schools, then among rayons, oblasts, culminating with the final on 31 August 2004.

Volunteers of the National Red Crescent Society and the NGO 'Alliance for Reproductive Health', using peer-to-peer methods, helped the young footballers to learn about the risks of unhealthy behaviours and how to protect themselves, where to get information and how to communicate sensitive issues to their peers.

Richard Young sat down on the grass of the new stadium to listen to their stories and answer their questions. Born in Manchester, he was surprised to learn that the young boys knew all the members of Manchester United Football Club. With great interest, they listened to him explain why Manchester United was invited to be a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and how famous football players help children in developing countries.

During the official speeches, Mr. Blatter specially mentioned the collaboration of FIFA and UNICEF at the global and national level, pointing out that football is more than a game, it is a culture. "Together, sport and development organizations can do many good things for youth" he said.

Mr. Muraliev, the President of the National Football Federation, thanked UNICEF for organizing training for coaches. And Mr. Young, to conclude his speech, said: "We believe in the power of football, we believe that sport helps children – both boys and girls - not only to grow physically strong; it also helps to build the confidence and self-esteem that will serve them throughout their lives".

**The Competition engaged approximately 1,200 male football players between 12 and 14 years of age. An HIV and drug use prevention campaign linked up to this initiative created a unique opportunity to target not only the boys playing football, but also coaches, teachers, parents and peers during the football competitions.

 

 
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