Two young Tauranga footballers are off to Russia ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, taking part in a programme aimed at fostering good relations between players from different cultures.
Jonty Burggraaf and Isla Ganley will represent New Zealand at Gazprom’s international children’s social programme ‘Football for Friendship 2018’ in Moscow on an all-expenses paid trip.
Taking place in Moscow from June 8-15, the aim of the programme is to promote essential values embodied by football with the younger generation such as respect for other cultures and nationalities, as well as equality.
Jonty will represent New Zealand as a player, while Isla will attend as a young journalist, giving the Kiwis a presence ahead of the FIFA World Cup despite the national team failing to qualify for the tournament.
They will join 12-year-old football players and journalists from 211 countries and regions participating in the eight-day programme.
“I first played for my club at age four and am now in my ninth season,” says Jonty. “My grandfather represented New Zealand twice in rugby and softball so I want to do the same with football.
“Sport can be competitive but it should be about feeling good and promoting peace. We’re all on the same planet and we really need to get along and live together peacefully.”
Isla is also proud to be representing New Zealand at the F4F 2018. “I am looking forward to having the opportunity to learn journalism skills and make new friends. We all deserve the right to be treated equally regardless of where we come from or who we are.”
A total of 32 international teams of friendship will compete at the Football for Friendship World Championship on June 12. In the days leading up to the tournament, each player will be trained by young coaches who are football players ranging between 14-16 years of age from various countries.
Additionally, more than 5000 media outlets worldwide will cover the programme, which is considered a unique educational programme by the United Nations. The Football for Friendship International Children’s Press Centre, consisting of 12-year-old journalists from the 211 countries and regions represented, will report their own F4F stories and will be beamed around the world.
Former Tauranga City AFC player Shane Boyle, who also heads-up social enterprise Football Music Culture, is pleased that these kinds of global opportunities are coming to fruition after collaborating with his old club on various poverty alleviation projects over the last two years.
“It shows grass roots football can be a pathway for kids to achieve big things in the sport, whether it’s as a player or an aspiring journalist. It’s great for Tauranga football locally and New Zealand football as a whole.”
TCAFC chair Brendan McHugh is equally excited about the opportunity to send two club members.
“We’re delighted that Jonty and Isla are representing us as we know they’ll be perfect ambassadors for our club, region and country while in Russia. What an amazing opportunity and an awesome way to kick-start our new club after our recent merger.
“This opportunity is a sign that we are on track to build a club that the region and the country can be proud of.”
Readers will be able to follow the journey of Tauranga’s young footballers on SunLive under the ‘Blogs’ section.