Dressed proudly in their blue shirts, Team India walks onto the field, two of the players holding their large, crayon-coloured paper flag of India. The four players pose for a group photo and then step aside as Team Paraguay, Team Kenya, Team Chile, Team Brazil and the other teams participating in today’s championships follow with their own paper flags.
The excitement here rivals any World Cup match, but we’re not in one of the twelve World Cup host cities. These championships are taking place in Vila Cabral Miranda, a low-income, rural community located a 45 minute drive from Sao Luis, Maranhão State, Brazil. Vila Cabral Miranda is the home of two maximum security prisons which captured world headlines due to violent and brutal prison riots in late 2013. Some of the children in Vila Cabral Miranda have a father, mother, brother or sister in the prisons.
“The kids are here to play, to have fun and of course, they want to win,” says 16-year Kleison, the mediator of the first match. “But there’s more to it than that. Each game is divided in three phases: pre-game rules; playing the game; and, post-game evaluation. This teaches life skills and the children to learn values like respect for each other, the importance of fair play and how to play together as a team.”
There is no referee for the game and each team comprises 4-5 girls and boys, spread equally by age amongst the teams. With girls as young as six playing alongside boys as old as thirteen, you would expect the games to be unfair and one-sided, but that’s not the case at all. This is Brazilian ‘FutRua3’ (street football), played with the innovative, three-phase twist to help promote safe and inclusive participation for all children, as well as self-refereeing based on rules they agree upon together before they play.
The first game between Team India and Team Paraguay starts under the bright sun and blue skies and ends ten, full-action minutes later. There is no football field for kids to play on here, so the mobile football field brought here by UNICEF Brazil partner Instituto Formação is what makes these championships possible. Easily transported by a small pick-up truck, the brightly coloured 3.5 foot-high walls are set-up in about twenty minutes, with a small goal net at each end.
After the game, Kleison calls the players of Team India and Team Paraguay over to sit. It’s time to talk together and find out who really won the game, because goals aren’t the only determining factor.
“Let’s go through the rules that you all came up with before the game,” says Kleison. “Did you make sure to share the ball equally between the girls and boys? Did anyone swear? Did anyone push or trip someone while you were playing? Did you congratulate whoever scored a goal, even if they weren’t on your team? Did everyone play fair?”
All the players felt that both sides played the game fairly, although one goal was taken away from the team whose player said a bad word after he missed a kick (he apologized during the discussion). But even with that, his team won the game with a chance to move forward in the standings.
While this mediated post-game discussion takes place, the next two teams are well into their game. Before starting, the players also decide which rules they are going to follow. “Some of their rules were the same as those of the first two teams,” says 15-year old Mikelly, another adolescent mediator. “But some of their rules were different, including that if the youngest and smallest girl on one of the teams scored a goal, it would be worth two points.”
“The mediators are part of REJUPE, an adolescent network for the right to safe and inclusive sports in Brazil,” says Regina Cabral, co-founder of the Brazilian NGO, Instituto Formação. “The mediators have been trained and know the importance of the three phases of ‘FutRua3’.”
By noon, the games are over and the two teams with the most points (not necessarily by goals alone), play for the top spot, which is eventually won by Team Kenya.
UNICEF Brazil’s partnership and support of Instituto Formação and REJUPE are part of its strategy to strengthen civil society capacity and empower communities to develop and implement public policies and actions for safe and inclusive sports. This is aligned to UNICEF’s global #TeamUNICEF vision for a better, more equitable world where every child can play sports and have fun in a way that positively transforms their lives.
Sports for development activities like ‘FutRua3’ help break down barriers, promote participation, alter attitudes and include the excluded in Brazil. By playing ‘FutRua3’, Vila Cabral Miranda’s children are not just playing football, they are learning, growing and helping to building a better society for themselves and their community. They know that when everyone plays together fairly, everyone wins.
Kent Page is a Strategic Communication Advisor in UNICEF. He recently attended the Street Football championship in Vila Cabral Miranda, Maranhão State, Brazil.