The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, and the Union of European Football Associations, UEFA are joining forces to highlight the plight of children in war.

The UEFA organization has a built-in audience that is hard to beat. Its most prestigious tournament, Euro 2004, kicks off in Portugal on June 12 and runs through July 4. UEFA officials say there will be 31 matches played in 10 stadiums in front of 1.2 million ticket holders. They expect worldwide broadcasts of these events to reach billions of spectators around the world.

ICRC Vice-President Jacques Furster said this massive audience offers a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the needs of children suffering the effects of war.

"Football and the ICRC may not seem at first hand to be natural partners," said Mr. Furster. "But both, in different ways, can bring hope and new motivation to young people who have seen their communities destroyed by armed conflict. To children who have to live under the realities of war, football can restore a sense of freedom, enjoyment, team spirit that might not otherwise be possible."

The campaign will focus on four Red Cross activities pertaining to children in war. They include reuniting children with their families, assisting them in their physical and psychological recovery, meeting their basic needs for food, water and health and, lastly, campaigning against the use of child soldiers.

The Red Cross estimates about 300,000 children are fighting in more than 30 different conflicts today.

UEFA's chief executive, Gerhard Aigner, says his organization is breaking new ground. He says, for the first time, it is offering its promotional platform to a humanitarian cause at a flagship event. He says the Protect Children in War campaign will run through the final Euro 2004 round in Lisbon next summer.

"At events between now and then, the program will use the slogan Let us Play, to raise awareness that children at war must be protected, so as to limit the impact war has on their lives and their future," he explained.

One top international referee, Pierluigi Collina, will serve as the campaign's ambassador. In this role, he will visit an ICRC field operation, where he will see rehabilitation and family reunification work under way. He also will referee a match for children.

Mr. Collina says his role as a referee is to ensure that players respect the rules of the game. In a similar way, he says, the ICRC works to ensure that those fighting a war respect the laws of armed conflict.