|© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1172/Piero Pomponi|
|In Congo, DRC, twin brothers in a Kabati camp for the displaced wear UNICEF/FC Barcelona football jerseys.|
The following article was written by Paolo Maldini and Francesco Totti, Italian UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors, and appeared in an Italian national newspaper "La Gazzetta dello Sport" on the day of the 2009 UEFA Champions League Final, Rome. Translated by Italian National Committee.
ROME, Italy, 18 June 2009 – It is the night of the champions, hosted by Rome, Italy. It’s the match of the century, and everything will happen in ninety minutes. At the first whistle, two great teams will face off, teams from two very different nations, with two different football philosophies, but with some of the greatest football talents between them.
On one side, there is a coach who has won everything and still basks in the glory of his victories. On the other is a veteran footballer from Barcelona who wants to start a new cycle of victories, starting tonight, in Italy.
Unfortunately, Italian football won’t grace the field tonight, but our fans will be glued to televisions along with millions of other fans in the world. Tonight will also be the night that many children, connected from all corners of the globe, will watch their idols play, and struggle to stay awake until they see the Champions Cup held high in the air.
UNICEF will be present
There will also be many children who won’t be able to see the match, but UNICEF will be there to represent them. Tonight, UNICEF, for which we are ambassadors, will be the 13th player on the field (the twelfth player are the fans, almost as indispensable as the team itself). UNICEF will be present on the field of the Olympic Stadium, on the jerseys of the Blaugrana and in the hearts of the Red Devils, to remind the whole world of the constant commitment that the world of football has to help those children who are less fortunate.
Running after a ball and yelling “GOOOOAL!” is every child’s dream, but in many parts of the world it’s something more. Running after a ball, a ball often made of found materials, holding it tight, throwing it to another child, running without ever stopping; these are all ways of reaffirming one’s desire to live, but also of following a dream: to one day find oneself on a green field, under the eyes of 80,000 fans, living the joy of a magical evening, like tonight’s final.
This is the power of a ball, but also the ability of those, like UNICEF, who work every day to give hope. It’s an assist that can sometimes help these children’s dreams become reality, helping them study, grow, demonstrate their value, and run toward a better future. Who knows, maybe tonight among the 22 champions on the field, there are some of these children, torn from the streets, from a difficult life, from poverty. Maybe those will be the ones who make the difference, who will never tire because it’s their ‘day of days’, like in the Ligabue song, dreamt with eyes both open and closed.
Solidarity towards millions of children
We, being fathers before footballers, hope that tonight will above all be a night of solidarity towards millions of children sick with AIDS. It’s a virus that still kills many, too many, victims among the world’s youngest. It is the virus that UNICEF is trying to defeat through its campaign in Italy and beyond with support from the President Vincenzo Spadafora.
Will tonight be the night of Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo? Eto or Rooney? We honestly hope it will also be the night of all those who want a fairer, more child-friendly world. And we hope that the finalists, knowing the eyes of all the world’s children are on them tonight, will play like champions, respect their opponents, and teach us a lesson about good sportsmanship.
To captains Ferdinand and Puyol, we grant you, just this time, the joy and elation of lifting the Cup to the sky. But we ask them to remember that lifting it will be like lifting up millions of children who need their help, their goals, their blocks, their assists, but also their solidarity.
With UNICEF, we’ve already won our final. To you the honour of reaching the highest level of competition in Europe united for children. As champions for life, and not just for sport.
Published by “La Gazzetta dello Sport” on May 27, 2009