FOURTEEN years ago, the United Nations General Assembly declared August 12 as International Youth Day. FIFA vice-president PRINCE ALI BIN AL HUSSEIN of Jordan hails the day and its global message*:
—– “This is the first time the bus is taking us somewhere fun,” said Selma, a 12-year-old Syrian girl residing in what is now considered the second largest refugee camp in the world- Za’atari, in northern Jordan, on her way to a children’s football festival commemorating World Refugee Day in the Yarmouk University stadium.
Selma’s words resonate with me everyday; a powerful reminder of the harsh realities in today’s Arab world, where youth, representing 60 percent of the total Arab population, are especially affected.
What also resonates loud is Selma’s sentiment about her short journey to the football pitch; which in turn, reinforces my strong belief in the role of sport in general and football in particular, in rehabilitation, in strengthening resilience and in empowering youth.
It is no panacea to all challenges facing our youth today. However, sport combines physiological and psychological benefits thereby keeping our young ones active, healthy, and engaged.
Throughout my career in football over the past 12 years, I’ve had front row seats to witnessing the power of this beautiful game in connecting our youth; boys and girls.
On the field of play, they learn about teamwork, respecting rules and each other, irrespective of their differences. They also develop life skills; such as positive competition based on hard work and merit and responsibility as individual players and as a team.
During the past two years, in particular, I have witnessed first hand how sport can be a tool for youth development in Asia.
Through the Asian football Development Project (AFDP), a non-profit youth commission I founded, I’ve had the honour of meeting young Cambodian girls who were saved from human trafficking by football. Today, they are players and some trained coaches.
In India, thousands of underprivileged children are able to play in safe locations off the streets and given an opportunity to be scouted for their national youth teams.
In Australia, football pitches are bringing together youth of different ethnic and religious backgrounds in a heartwarming display of mutual respect and social inclusion. I can certainly go on.
If there is one message I would like to share with you today as the international community celebrates Youth, it is this; invest in sport. While there are gains and losses in each game, I guarantee this investment is a win-win situation for all in the future. Our youth have a lot of potential, let us work together to unlock it.
* More about today:
Fourteen years ago, the United Nations General Assembly declared August 12 International Youth Day. This annual commemoration not only elevates the role of youth to promote development worldwide, but also serves as an important reminder of the challenges youth face in their societies. Moreover, it gives youth a platform to engage in an open dialogue about their present and future and allows practitioners in youth related fields (whether in education, the arts, sport or otherwise) an opportunity to share their ideas and experiences.
Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, a FIFA Vice President representing Asia and President of both the Jordan Football Association (since 1999) and the West Asian Football Federation (since 2000), is one of those practitioners who chose to share his thoughts with us today, August 12, on the role of sport, in general and football, in particular, in the development and empowerment of youth.