The tournament was a festival of football, with some young players showing a multitude of skills, tricks and dribbles, and amazing goals on show. Unsurprisingly, the stars of the tournament came from two of the four finalists, with Asteria Robert from the Tanzanian team and Mohammed Abdullah, the Pakistan captain, impressing the judges to win the female and male awards. Honourable mentions go to Brazil’s striker, Thyssa, who scored 14 goals throughout the tournament to lead her team to victory. In the finals, Brazil’s girls won 1-0 against Tanzania and Uzbekistan boys beat Pakistan on penalties. Team England had given a performance to make everyone involved proud, losing to Tanzania in the semi-final, but then beating the Philippines to finish third.
All the teams have been organised by frontline organisations working with homeless and socially excluded children. This time, 12 boys’ and 12 girls’ teams come from Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Burundi, Egypt, England, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uzbekistan and the US.
Many of the participating organisations use football as a tool to engage hard-to-reach youth and provide a safe space for them to play, whether in the Penha favela in Rio de Janeiro, where gun violence is endemic, or in central Cairo, where the Nafas charity runs a football league for 400 at-risk youth, or in Payatas in Manila, where the Fairplay for All Foundation helps children who scavenge on the local rubbish dump for a living to return to school.
This year’s event is the third incarnation of the Street Child World Cup, which was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2010, and in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 2014. A mini Olympics for street-connected youth was held in Rio in 2016. It is the first time that there has been an equal number of girls’ and boys’ teams, a fact that has pleased many of the girls taking part.
The mood has been celebratory as young people have taken over the stands at Lokomotiv, home of the new Russian Premier League champions, to watch each other’s matches. They’ve seen the Kremlin and Red Square, and were guests at a reception in the garden of British ambassador Laurie Bristow.
But the criminalisation of street-connected youth is just one of the social issues organisers hope to highlight at the Street Child World Cup, a football tournament and congress on children’s rights that piggybacks the Fifa World Cup to draw attention to at-risk children so participating countries can leverage the publicity to effect change in their countries.
Such high visibility is important for children who often hide from sight or whose presence in public is unwelcome, say event organisers UK charity Street Child United. As well as challenging stereotypes of street-connected youth – and giving them a chance to demonstrate their talents – a high profile for at-risk children can serve a political purpose.
This high visibility culminated in a general assembly in the centre of the city where young people presented a ‘Moscow Manifesto’ calling on governments to uphold their rights around the three issues of protection from violence, the right to education and the right to an identity. To prepare the manifesto, the young people took part in a congress alongside the football where they’ve shared experiences of life in their countries.
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