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Foundation helps open pitches at Zaatari, Azraq refugee camps

The UEFA Foundation for Children, Lay's and the Asian Football Development Project have linked up for a second year to build new football facilities for refugees in northern Jordan.

UEFA Foundation pitches hope to refugee girls.
UEFA Foundation pitches hope to refugee girls.

The UEFA Foundation for Children, the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP) and Lay's have joined forces to turn unsafe playing areas at two refugee camps in northern Jordan into artificial football pitches.

A dedicated girls-only pitch will enhance Zaatari's current football facilities, while a newly upgraded pitch will enable even more girls and boys in the Azraq camp to enjoy their favourite game.

The UEFA Foundation for Children, AFDP and Lay's first teamed up in September 2017 to build a full-size, permanent artificial pitch for Zaatari residents. These past 12 months, 35,000 children and adults have used the pitch, with 600 matches played in 20 tournaments and football training courses offered all year round. Additionally, 40 men and 40 women have become certified football coaches.

(Left to right): Mazen Al Masri, Laura Georges and HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein
(Left to right): Mazen Al Masri, Laura Georges and HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein©AFDP

HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, AFDP founder and chairman, returned to Zaatari last week to officially open the girls-only pitch, having inaugurated the first pitch last year. The special guests for the official opening ceremony in Azraq, meanwhile, included UEFA Foundation general secretary Urs Kluser,and PepsiCo Middle East and North Africa (MENA) snacks director Mazen Al Masri, who met members of the community and local certified football coaches. UEFA ambassador, French international star Laura Georges, was present at both the Zaatari and Azraq camps.

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin said: "These new football pitches have been designed to help create an everyday environment where youngsters can enjoy recreational time and remain children even in wartime."

"The new girls-only facility in Zaatari meets a growing need to promote girls' participation in sports at the camp, while supervised sports activities at both camps will help reduce tensions, encourage dialogue and improve conflict resolution and well-being."

New facilities to boost football participation
New facilities to boost football participation©UEFA Foundation

HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein said: "When children enter these football pitches, they dare to dream big. They are football players, defenders, strikers, goalkeepers, referees and fans, having a good time while learning how to play in a team. In many, lasting ways, their lives will be transformed well beyond that last whistle blow."

Mazen Al Masri said: "The Arab world is united in its love for football, and the Zaatari project enables young people to live out their passion and bond over the camaraderie the sport inspires. PepsiCo is proud to be part of this initiative with the AFDP and the UEFA Foundation for Children, in line with our Performance with Purpose strategy to do business in a way that benefits the communities we live and work in." Lay's is a PepsiCo brand and an official partner of the UEFA Champions League.

"I was extremely moved," said Laura Georges after her visit to the Zaatari camp, "to see how football represents a means of escape for all of these young girls who know nothing else than life in the camp."

"I wish to stay in contact with them and their coaches to support them in our common passion, football."

Laura Georges gave the girls wise words of advice
Laura Georges gave the girls wise words of advice©UEFA Foundation

Since 2013, the AFDP and UEFA have been organising regular football training sessions and workshops for displaced persons, particularly children who are the most vulnerable victims of war. This long-term cooperation has given rise to many different projects that use sport, especially football, as a platform for social development.

Additionally, the UEFA Foundation–AFDP partnership has trained 287 refugees – 190 men and 97 women – to become coaches for over 6,800 Syrian youngsters, 4,150 boys and 2,650 girls at Zaatari. The coaches, in turn, have launched their own football league and hope to establish a football club in the near future.

The Asian Football Development Project aims to support concrete development and knowledge sharing programmes within its region. The UEFA Foundation for Children was established to reflect UEFA's desire to play a more active role in society, being formally launched in April 2015.