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Civil society partnerships

Football changes children’s lives

© UNICEF/HQ02-0508/Vitale
Children play with a homemade football in Malawi.

Football. Children all over the world play and love the game. It is played on crowded city streets and in tiny villages by girls and boys alike. Football is played in fields, in refugee camps, and even amidst situations of war and armed-conflict. Wherever you find children, you will also most likely find football. 

On 20 May 2004 UNICEF commends its partner FIFA, football’s international governing body, on its use of sports to change the lives of children around the world. Likewise, FIFA continues its support for children and UNICEF during its Centennial Celebration in Paris, France. At the women’s match, all football players from the World Championship team from Germany and the Women’s World Stars team will sport both the FIFA and UNICEF logos on their sleeve.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and international football star George Weah will be in attendance at the games. Mr. Weah began playing football on the streets of Liberia as a child. Today he is an internationally acclaimed athlete who believes that sports are essential to healing the scars of children affected by armed conflict, especially former child soldiers.

“Sports unify people. If we want to go into the direction of unity, we have to get together and play sports,” said Mr. Weah in an interview last December with UNICEF.
“Because when we play sports—we have opponents and we practice good behaviour on the playing field and there we find a way to win—but we also have fun. Sports are very important, they help sensitize feelings and through that you can bring about peace,” he said.

A powerful alliance helping all girls and boys

The partnership between FIFA and UNICEF underlines the importance of every child’s right to play, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The partnership began in 1999, and was formalized in 2001. In 2002, FIFA dedicated the World Cup to UNICEF’s Say Yes for Children campaign, the first time ever that the men’s World Cup was devoted to a humanitarian cause.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003 was dedicated to Go Girls! Education for Every Child, UNICEF’s global initiative to get more girls into school.  In addition, FIFA donated $150,000 US to UNICEF to purchase and deliver 600 “sports in a box kits” to 12 countries that are part of the ‘25 by 2005’ girl’s education campaign. The ’25 by 2005’ campaign is an intensive effort to get as many girls as boys into school in 25 countries by 2005.

UNICEF has found that football can be used to reach children in many ways.

  • Education: UNICEF has teamed with FIFA to use the wide popularity and high visibility of football to help every child, including every girl, get to school and stay there.
  • HIV/AIDS: UNICEF supports a variety of football programmes aimed at HIV/AIDS education.
  • Child protection: UNICEF has found that football can help children recover from trauma by encouraging their physical and emotional development.
  • Girls’ education: Girls who participate in sports tend to be healthier – emotionally and physically. UNICEF is using sports kits and football as tools for improving girls’ attendance in schools, empowering girls and changing attitudes about girls and women, worldwide.

In countries where there are few opportunities for children to escape from poverty, fighting and disease, football, like other forms of play, provides a positive outlet.



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All children have the right to play.

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