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At a glance: Venezuela, The Bolivarian Republic of

After the Copa América, Venezuelan children relive the joy of a dream come true

© UNICEF Venezuela/2007/David
For these Venezuelan children, taking the field hand-in-hand with star footballers was a magical moment that they will never forget.

By Nicolas David

MARACAIBO, Venezuela, 19 July 2007 – During this year’s Copa América, the oldest football tournament in the world, more than 570 Venezuelan children had a chance to take the field hand-in-hand with their favorite football players.

The tournament took place in Venezuela from 26 June to 15 July. Thanks to the partnership agreement between CONMEBOL (the South American Football Confederation) and UNICEF, all of this year’s matches were dedicated to children and their right to play.

Through video spots, media coverage and free advertising, Copa América 2007 also served as a platform to promote UNICEF’s work and the impact of sports on children’s health, growth and development.

© UNICEF Venezuela/2007/David
Ten minutes before taking the field with Copa América players, the children’s excitement and joy grows.

‘With children we all win’

As mandated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to engage in play and recreational activities and yet for many children this right is often forgotten, said UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg.

“For many of the poor children in Latin America, there is really no space for recreation,” added Mr. Kastberg. “They only have the streets, and a lot of time the streets are unsafe and insecure. Children, whether they are rich or poor, should all have access to sports facilities.”

Along with thousands of fans, Mr. Kastberg attended the Copa América final match between Brazil and Argentina, which was held in Maracaibo on 15 July. As in each of the previous matches, 22 Venezuelan children, all dressed in UNICEF blue t-shirts, took the field with the players from both teams.

During the match, a UNICEF public service announcement was played in the stadium. Produced for UNICEF free of charge, the PSA featured more than 80 children chasing a football in a poor neighbourhood in Caracas.

The 30-second video spot was also broadcast on many national and international TV channels, spreading the powerful message: “Behind every football, there are thousands of dreams. Let’s make it so children can reach them. It is their right to play. With children we all win!”

© UNICEF Venezuela/2007/David
Children, players and thousands of fans stand for the national anthems of Brazil and Uruguay during the Copa América semi-final match between the two teams.

Preparing for the big moment

In order to give the children at the matches the most positive experience possible, UNICEF Venezuela established key partnerships with two organizations: the Scouts Association of Venezuela, who helped coordinate the children accompanying the players onto the field; and the PASOS Network (Psychoanalysts in Social Work), who were in charge of preparing the children for their big moment.

Eddy, 8, from Maracaibo, accompanied Brazilian superstar Robinho at the semi-final match between Brazil and Uruguay. “I wanted to take the field with Robinho. I like how he plays,” said Eddy. “When he took my hand, he said something, but I couldn’t understand anything. I sang the Brazilian national anthem because I know it. I loved being there!”

Oriana, 9, could not stop talking about her encounter with Venezuelan player Fernando de Ornellas. “When I took the field, there were so many flashes and people cheering that I almost fell down!” she recalled with a huge smile. “My dream came true: I got player number 15 from Venezuela. He grabbed my hand and I got really nervous… I counted every day until the match.”

Renier, 10, accompanied another Venezuelan star, Juan Arango. “He is a really famous player,” said Renier. “But above all, I am proud to have had the chance to represent all the children of the world. Thanks UNICEF!”

Kun Li contributed to this story from New York.




19 July 2007:
UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg talks about the partnership with Copa América.
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