The joy of football through innovation

Although the World Cup in Brazil is now over, the most important players – children – continue to enjoy the beautiful game every day. And Diane Sousa dreams of bringing the game to as many children as possible.

“My grandmother is illiterate, my parents are semi-illiterate and I grew up in poor neighbourhood in São Bento, Maranhão State, one of the poorest states of Brazil,” says Diane. “When I was thirteen, I joined the Brazilian NGO Instituto Formação’s adolescent citizenship activities which changed my life. I loved to play football and although it was not a sport played by many girls then, I could play football at Formação because, like UNICEF, they want all girls and boys to develop to their full potential.”

“I learned a lot in Formação participating in workshops and eventually became a mediator for children playing street football in the ‘FutRua3’ programme,” she says. “In 2010, I participated in global adolescent network forums in Rwanda and in KickFair in Germany. I also taught mediation to young people from 34 countries at the FIFA Football for Hope Festival in South Africa the same year.”

Diane also saw something that inspired her in Germany: large walls set up for teenagers to play football where there was nowhere to play. But they were big, heavy and expensive and required large trucks to transport them so they only moved around Germany a couple of times a year.

Diane had her inspiration, and turned to innovation. “I wondered how we could help bring football to small children in low-income communities in Brazil – like São Bento where there was no football field when I grew up – so girls and boys could play football together safely while having fun and learning at the same time.”

Diane was eighteen.

Working with other adolescents and with Formação’s co-founder, Regina Cabral and a local designer, within eight weeks they had produced the first ‘Quadra Bolação’ (Action Ball Square) – a modular rectangle that creates an inexpensive, mobile football field.

The ‘Quadra Bolação’ creates a football field almost anywhere, bringing the joy of football, and its learning opportunities, to children from vulnerable communities. (c) UNICEF/2014/Kent Page

“The first ‘Quadra Bolação’ was all green in colour. It was inaugurated in May 2013 at the Brazilian Educational Sports Mediation Meeting, coordinated by Formação with UNICEF’s support. It was so fun when we set it up for the first time in my home town of São Bento. No-one knew what it was because they had never seen anything like it. The kids thought it was a boat and some adults thought we were building a pool!”

But everyone understood the brilliance of its simple design when a football was produced and games were played. Diane’s idea was so popular that in only eight months in 2013, the ‘Quadra’ had travelled 42 times to different vulnerable communities in Brazil, with 35 visits scheduled in 2014.

Demand was so high that a second, lighter and more durable, ‘Quadra’ was produced by January 2014, easily transportable in a small pick-up truck. It can be set up virtually anywhere in about twenty minutes. UNICEF and Formação also developed cartoon drawings for the walls of the ‘Quadra’ that easily explain to children how ‘FutRua3’ is played, including important values like the importance of playing fair, including everyone in the game, and respecting each other.

“I am really proud when I see children playing in a ‘Quadra Bolação’ and to know that others believe in my idea,” says Diane.

And indeed they do believe: FIFA World Cup sponsor SONY, and the NGO StreetFootballWorld, are in the process of building twenty ‘Quadras’ with Formação’s authorization – and possibly another seventy for use in low-income communities in Brazil and other countries.

Diane's idea has been recognised for its simplicity and innovation - and there are plans to manufacture more. (c) UNICEF/2014/Kent Page
Diane’s idea has been recognised for its simplicity and innovation – and there are plans to manufacture more. (c) UNICEF/2014/Kent Page

So, what’s next after you’ve helped create something that helps children and that international companies have invested in? Diane is now in university in São Luis studying law. “I’m interested in human rights law and I want to work in areas that help protect children. I just want to keep helping Brazilian children so we can improve our society and all children here can have a better life.”

Kent Page is a Strategic Communication Advisor in UNICEF. He has recently returned from São Luis, Maranhão State, Brazil.

More about ‘Quadra Bolação’
Easily transported by a small pick-up truck, the brightly coloured 3.5 foot-high walls of the ‘Quadra Bolação’ are quickly set-up with a small goal net at each end. The modular design allows the mobile football field size – 10×12 metres; 12×16 metres; or 14×18 metres – to be adjusted to the available space for the game, as agreed with the local community. UNICEF Brazil’s partnership and support of Instituto Formação and the REJUPE adolescent network 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 safely and inclusively, while having fun in a way that positively transforms their lives.

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  1. Could it be that you have it all upside down? If a -still poor by many standards- country such as Brazil had poured the billions that went into this one-time event instead into education, Brazil could well be among the leaders like Korea or Japan if it had instead dodged the world cup investment and spread this investment over ten years in education – and in fact, it might even have recouped that investment whereas now these new stadia are set to rot in the jungle!