You probably haven’t heard of Zimdonesialand. It only has a population of about 30, all teenage girls, but it has a banner and a name, and has quickly become the talk of the Street Child World Cup.
The phenomenon that is Zimdonesialand started during the Zimbabwe – Indonesia game at the Lonier Maracana. Zimbabwe were comfortably winning, 6-0 up in fact. But when they scored their seventh goal something strange happened.
The Zimbabwe girls started celebrating in a typically exuberant fashion, running to the side of a pitch for a team dance. Except this time they were joined by their opponents, who were joyfully celebrating the Zimbabwean goal.
Then Indonesia scored, and everyone went wild. The Indonesia and Zimbabwe players were hugging each other, dancing together and cheering to the crowd, who were cheering right back.
These scenes continued for the rest of the match, which ended 8-2, and carried on after the final whistle. Tom Messenger, Volunteer Pitch Manager at Street Child World Cup, says it is an experience he will never forget:
“Indonesia have played the entire tournament with smiles on their faces. The crowd was quite big for that game, so there was a really great atmosphere and a lot of energy, and the teams celebrating together was a really heartwarming moment. At the end of the game all the players were hugging and dancing, giving each other piggybacks and having a water fight. I’ve never seen two teams celebrate so much that you can’t even tell who won.”
The next day when Zimbabwe took the field to play Brazil, the Indonesia squad were there with a banner: “Zimdonesia”. Since then the England girls team have joined after bonding during a conference session, and the three teams’ bond has become a byword for the cultural exchange and friendship that Street Child World Cup stands for.
Sicelo, who plays for Zimbabwe, explained that the teams have been bonding throughout the tournament: “When we first got here Indonesia greeted us and when the games started we supported each other. We’ve been teaching each other our languages, but we mainly speak with sign language. We wanted the Indonesia girls to feel at home as our friends when we played them, so we celebrated their goal.”
The story has been similar amongst all the squads in Rio, even defying popular perceptions. When India and Pakistan were drawn to play each other in the group phase everyone knew it was a unique chance to promote tolerance and understanding.
Syed Itfan Maqbool, Director of the Azad Foundation, said the India and Pakistan squads were eager to meet each other: “They understand it is just a game. The two squads are friends not rivals. The teams are sharing the same dorm as friends, so they share everything. In Vidigal the players were dancing together, singing songs and ate lunch together. It is a start for a friendly future.
“Both squads have the responsibility to try and change the perception of the two countries as rivals. The two projects are similar, and face similar problems, so we have enjoyed working together.”
Paul Sunder Singh, Secretary at Karunalaya, thinks it is natural that the teams are getting on: “Before we went to the pitch we said to both teams it was a friendship match. The two teams are not rivals, children don’t have rivals only adults have rivals.”
Kannadoss, the India captain, says his team have been making friends with all the other squads: “We’ve been getting on with all the teams. We’ve been telling them about India and they’ve been telling us about their countries.”
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. In the first days of the Street Child World Cup there was a noticeable tension between the Brazil and Argentina boys’ squads, two countries with famous footballing histories and a long-standing and much hyped football rivalry.
But Jose William of the Brazil squad says the teams made a decision to confront the issue: “We’d been taught there was a rivalry, but we decided to overcome that by playing with each other. We played football, and now we are friends.”
Daniel, Argentina’s goalkeeper, says they quickly discovered similarities: “They have the same attitude to football as us. They respect each other and respect their opponents. We don’t speak the same language, but we can understand each other.”
The new bond between the teams produced one of the most moving moments of the Street Child World Cup. Argentina went into their final group game yet to pick up a point, and determined to perform well under the floodlights of Lonier Soccer City in front of a packed crowd.
Argentina began the game against Philippines with great energy and passion, and scored the opening goal. To celebrate Daniel, who was joined by his teammates, ran the length of the pitch to show his respects to the mural which has been painted of Rodrigo, who would have been captaining Brazil at Street Child World Cup but was tragically killed just weeks before the tournament.
Daniel explained the touching gesture: “The captain of Brazil spoke to our captain before the game, and said that we would win because the strength of Rodrigo was with us. We wanted to thank Rodrigo, and the Brazilian team.”
Two teams who less than a week before weren’t speaking to each other were now sharing an incredibly intimate and powerful symbol of respect and love. It was a moment nobody present will ever forget.
“No child should have to live on the streets and I fully endorse this campaign giving street children a voice to claim their rights”
“I experienced hardcore street life in my youth. I know what it’s like. I congratulate the Street Child World Cup project in it’s commitment to bring attention to the plight of Street Children through the power of football.”
“No child should have to live on the streets. I commend the Street Child World Cup for providing a platform for the rights of street children to be heard.”