The International Football Federation, FIFA, recently announced a new partnership with the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF. Next year's World Cup in Japan and South Korea will highlight the FIFA-UNICEF alliance.
FIFA says it is dedicating the 2002 World Cup to the children of the world. This marks the first time football's premier event has been dedicated to a humanitarian cause.
During the month-long Asian soccer spectacular, which kicks off May 31, 2002, FIFA and UNICEF will be publicizing their partnership under the banner of "Say Yes For Children."
The campaign urges people to pledge their commitment to improve and protect children's lives. At the World Cup, young people will be featured at matches and festivities. And at every game, children will lead the players onto the field wearing FIFA/UNICEF "Say Yes" T-shirts.
At a news conference in New York announcing the alliance with UNICEF, FIFA president Joseph "Sepp" Blatter said soccer is a game that gives children hope. He said 80 percent of the 250 million worldwide participants are under age 18.
For its part, UNICEF says the alliance with FIFA will help put key children's issues in the spotlight. Ian Levine, Senior Program Officer for Emergencies at UNICEF in New York, said "I think the critical thing is that the alliance takes the federation that has the most global sport in the world, and establishes children at the center of its flagship event, the World Cup. It brings together FIFA and UNICEF to work on a number of critical issues affecting children, including, for example, promoting Fair Days for children during the World Cup itself. These include appeals for warring parties throughout the world to cease hostilities so that we can promote humanitarian actions in conflicts all over the world."
UNICEF official Ian Levine told VOA Sports that a number of radio and television public service announcements are being planned with top football stars expressing their support for the campaign. "In fact, a number of my colleagues have been in South Korea meeting with FIFA officials to plan a whole series of events around the World Cup. One of the issues that they will be looking at is the extent to which we can involve football stars in some of the public service advertisements and the other events to promote this whole initiative," he said.
Meanwhile, another U.N. initiative, the fight against AIDS, will also be addressed at the 2002 World Cup, with top soccer players again being enlisted to help. Former Cameroonian football star Roger Milla was recently named an ambassador for UNAIDS. is Dominique de Santis, a spokeswoman for UNAIDS in Geneva, said "We have discussed Roger's role in the World Cup. He's definitely very interested and very committed to playing an active role in the fight against AIDS at the World Cup. I think given that children will be a big theme, there's definitely a direct link with AIDS as well. Based on a report we just released for World AIDS day, we see that young men in Africa are especially vulnerable due to unsafe sex behavior that often takes place under the age of 25."
Roger Milla says being named an ambassador for UNAIDS is a wonderful opportunity for him to fight for a cause in which he believes. He says Africa is bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic, and it is his duty to do what he can for Africa and its youth.