Change is Coming.
The Prince of Wales was keen to remind Team England before they travelled to Doha that the Street Child World Cup was about far more than football. Nothing epitomised that message better than today’s General Assembly, when all 28 teams gathered to share messages of advocacy to the world in front of a huge audience which included Her Excellency of Qatar.
While football is certainly a social glue which has brought the Street Child World Cup together and helped in forging memories and friendships, we must remember that this event stands for issues and values which extend well beyond the pitch. It was therefore fitting to see our teams speak out today on the six issues which they have agreed upon over the last fortnight: Legal Identity, Education, Health, Poverty, Protection, and Gender Equality.
The teams presented their thoughts on each of these, backing up their arguments and claims with evidence on the problems which persist in societies all over the world. Refugees are five times less likely to go to school. 62% of Nepalese households have no access to healthcare centres within a thirty-minute journey. The list went on.
These are stark and often damning statistics, which remind us how important it is to bring about change. No one in the Multaqa ballroom this afternoon could have argued that seeing the young people of the Street Child World Child call for these changes was not powerful and attention-grabbing. To a man and a woman, those up on stage were eloquent, persuasive and principled.
What each presentation provided, however, was optimism, and it was this optimism that John Wroe sought to channel in his closing remarks. He said “Change is coming, and the Qatar Commitment is a vital tool in enabling lasting change to continue”. As he provided evidence of the work done in Bolivia since the last Street Child World Cup in gaining the right of identity for street-connected children, or the work done in Bangladesh in obtaining birth certificates and passports for this year’s players, it reminded us all that the Street Child World Cup is a platform for real, positive change, change which extends beyond this fortnight in Doha. As her Excellency took to the stage to sign the Commitment alongside John Wroe, it instilled a sense of belief that these young people’s words will be heeded.
With the ceremony complete, the noise and energy which has typified this year’s event returned. Teams paraded out to Oxygen Park singing, dancing and smiling. The General Assembly had lifted spirits, and now it was time for the Closing Ceremony and Football Finals.
You could cut the tension with a knife as the quarter finalists stepped out into the cauldron of Oxygen Park. Hordes of supporters crowded together on the touchlines, roaring on their teams. After some competitive quarter finals it was Philippines, Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia who had the last four in the girls’ tournament, and Egypt, Burundi, Pakistan and Brazil in the boys’.
Not one of the eight sides gave an inch in the semi-finals, with every player fighting tooth and nail to win their team a place in the final. On the boys’ side, it was penalty heartbreak on each pitch, as Burundi and Brazil both suffered shootout heartbreak after 0-0 draws, setting up a Pakistan vs Egypt final. Philippines suffered similar penalty anguish at the hands of Brazil on the girls’ side, while Colombia eased past Bolivia in an all-south American affair on pitch 2.
And then, for both boys and girls, there were two. Pakistan and Egypt boys played out a hugely physical final. In a deteriorating pitch the neat passing moves were few and far between, but the commitment certainly wasn’t lacking. With neither side able to find the breakthrough it was a case of déjà vu and another dreaded penalty shootout. With hundreds of eyes watching and the pressure immense, it was Egypt who held their nerve, their star goalkeeper making a stunning save to set up the winning moment. Their players went wild, rushing to the corner flag and throwing themselves to the ground in sheer euphoria. The Pakistan players did similarly, but out of total devastation. Once the celebrations subsided, it was heart-warming to see sportsmanship prevail and winners console losers.
Then came the girls’ final to provide the climax to the 2022 Street Child World Cup. Two-time winners Brazil immediately looked at ease, their pedigree in the tournament coming to the fore with some slick passing moves and exuberant skills. Colombia were determined and resolute, but ultimately had no answer for the quality of the Brazil girls. The team in yellow made it their third Street Child World Cup trophy in a row, running out comfortable 4-0 winners.
Each and every player took to the stage with their teams to receive a participation medal in a joyous presentation ceremony after the final whistle. The mood was jubilant as all those who had contributed to the Street Child World Cup celebrated their achievements. Egypt boys and Brazil girls partied on stage, basking in the glory of their triumphs. Crowds cheered. Media clamoured. Friends embraced.
It had been a special day – a reminder of the unique power of the Street Child World Cup. With friends made and memories forged, this has been an experience that no one present will ever forget. The goodbyes will be sad, but as Dr Seuss once said: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened”.