|© UNICEF Italy/2003|
|Francesco Totti, UNICEF Italy Goodwill Ambassador and Roma and Italy striker with a pair of young UNICEF supporters.|
A book by Francesco Totti, a UNICEF Italy Goodwill Ambassador and Roma and Italy striker, is so popular it has been topping the Italian bestseller list for many months this year. The book, published by Italy’s biggest publishing house, Mondadori, is a collection of jokes about Totti himself. The Roma football captain is a favourite target of jokes because of his terse answers, unease with the media and his poor language skills (“I have problems with Italian, so forget about English…”)
"Tutte le barzellette di Francesco Totti" (“All the jokes about Totti: my collection") has sold 750,000 copies so far and has been reprinted 14 times. Totti's ability to laugh at himself is reaping a windfall for UNICEF. Half of the book's proceeds will go to UNICEF in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), specifically for street children’s centres, and the other half to a Rome Municipality project for old people.
And we are talking big money here: over 300,000 euros for each project, the Italian National Committee estimates but “…we could reach half a million euros each. We did expect success in Rome, but the book has sold out everywhere in Italy and it is also generating additional donations.”
Francesco Totti, born in 1976 in the old working-class, Roman neighbourhood of Porta Metronia, has been playing football since he was a young boy and with the junior team of Roma football club from as early as 1989. In 1993 he played his first A league match with Roma and, in 1996, was called to join the Italian national team for the first time. He is currently the number 10 and captain of Roma and number 10 also on the national team.
Behind his rough, gladiator-style appearance and his simple Romane dialect, Francesco Totti is a man of principles and commitment. Being so popular with Italian teenagers, he decided to use his influence to promote what he calls “the real values in life and sports, behind the big show: friendship, respect, reliability, team work” by signing up for various campaigns on social issues, against violence in football stadiums and the promotion of peace.
Totti is a recognized team leader in Roma football club and repeatedly takes the initiative “…to explain to my colleagues that they have a responsibility towards our youngest public, that they should behave as a role model at all times, even if they are from a deprived background and – like myself – were not so successful at school”.
In May 2002, he spoke out for UNICEF during the FIFA World Cup, joining forces with Milan Football Club captain, Paolo Maldini. In November 2002, he recorded a public service announcement for the Italian National Committee for the National Day of the Child (20 November) and launched appeals for children’s rights “to build with UNICEF a world fit for children.”
His appointment as a UNICEF Italy Goodwill Ambassador was announced at a press conference in a Rome primary school on 17 March, 2003, when he also met children and answered their questions. On 23 March, he was officially appointed Goodwill Ambassador by the Italian National Committee President, Giovanni Micali, accompanied by the Mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, and various celebrities.
The event took place in front of 70,000 people in Rome’s Olympic Stadium, just before the Roma–Piacenza match (Roma won 3-0). Totti dedicated his nomination "…to all the children suffering conflict, all over the world, and right now, specifically for the children of Iraq. I hope to be able to use my fame to help them, with UNICEF, to the [greatest] extent possible." The event was extremely well covered and created additional interest (and fundraising) for UNICEF's action in Iraq.
When agreeing with Mondadori to the publication of book of jokes about himself, Totti did it with a good cause in mind. He chose DR Congo “…because it’s a country that receives very little funds compared to its needs” and projects for street children in Kinshasa “…because I know very well how difficult it can be to grow up safely even in cities like ours. Imagine such a difficult environment as Kinshasa.”
Francesco Totti has a dream: “To visit Congo and maybe play football with children in one of the centres that UNICEF supports with the little money I was able to raise.” That dream may come true in December 2003 when the Italian football league stops for Christmas.