Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Diplomatch: Football for Sierra Leone
As the players, friends and colleagues from the United Nations, took to the artificial turf football pitch at Manhattan’s Pier 40 in New York City, fans cheered knowing this was a game with a difference.
3,000 miles away and a world apart, children in football mad Sierra Leone, a nation at the bottom of the Human Development Index still recovering from the effects of a brutal civil war, would soon benefit from this beautiful game.
This past Saturday two teams made up of United Nations diplomats, including the Secretary General, participated in ‘Diplomatch’, a charity football game to benefit Play31, an NGO that provides footballs and equipment to communities in Sierra Leone so that children can exercise their right to play.
According to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, “This is a small, but symbolic event. We are participating to show solidarity with the people of Sierra Leone, to give hope to children in a war torn country known for the use of child soldiers. The UN takes this very seriously.”
Play31 was founded on the idea of Article 31 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that every child has the right to play. In Sierra Leone the organization provides children with the most basic necessity for play: a football.
The organization believes in the unifying power of the game of football and attempts to use the ‘beautiful game’ as a way toward creating peaceful societies.
Play31 began in Sierra Leone, partnering with local NGO Forum of Conscience, an organization that works to reconcile people and communities torn apart during the war. Play31 provides material and logistical support for football games that are part of a follow up to community reconciliation ceremonies.
Founder of Play31, Jakob Silas Lund, said that there would be a two-fold benefit from Diplomatch. First, from the money donated through sponsorships recruited by the Ambassadors, and second, through raising awareness of both the situation in Sierra Leone and of Play31’s work in the country.
With the participation of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and coverage on CNN and the New York Times, many more people will know about the children all over the world who live in a situation that doesn’t allow for their right to play to be realized. In the case of Sierra Leone it is poverty leading to child labour and violence leading to broken communities that creates this situation.
“It’s amazing for me, personally. Last year I was riding in the back of a 4x4 truck from Moyamba to Freetown and today we’re standing here in New York City,” said Mr. Lund.
“I met the Ambassador from Lichtenstein a year ago, I told him about Play31 and he said, ‘let’s do a match’, but it never materialized. Then I met the Ambassador from Chile and he said, ‘let’s do a match’, so thanks to these amazing ambassadors it finally came together.
The Ambassadors from Lichtenstein and Chile captained the two teams. They were also instrumental in recruiting the other players from various diplomatic missions from around the world.
For Heraldo Muñoz, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations, football is a global game with the power to create change and rebuild broken communities. For him, the efforts of Right to Play are having a real impact.
“Right to Play symbolizes, through this game, (the right to play) for the children of Sierra Leone. They bring footballs and equipment to the children of Sierra Leone. We’ve raised some money and had a good time, and we are also working to help children stay away from violence. It’s the beautiful game,” he said.
Ambassador Christian Wenaweser has served as the Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the United Nations since 2002. For him the event was more than just another charity fundraising event. “We were very happy to do something fun for a good cause. You just need a ball and the will to play. This was an opportunity to get out of the UN and to have a good time for a good cause.”
Donations to Play31 can be made via their website at www.play31.org.