A TRIUMPH FOR YOUTH PARTICIPATION
13
The idea that children should be able to attend adult matches on their own
is still one that divides opinion. Far better for them to be under their parents'
supervision, or at home in front of the television say the opponents. In recent
years, World Cup organisers, with active support from sponsors, have created
a way to help young fans not only to feel like tournament spectators but also
participants. Polina Surnina looks at how this happened in Russia.
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The idea that children should be able to attend adult matches on their own is still one that divides opinion. Far better for them to be under their parents' supervision, or at home in front of the television say the opponents. In recent years, World Cup organisers, with active support from sponsors, have created a way to help young fans not only to feel like tournament spectators but also participants. Polina Surnina looks at how this happened in Russia.
It was when an unknown girl rose from her wheelchair, wearing red shorts and a yellow T-shirt, to the sound of the Russian national anthem. Knee socks hid her orthopaedic supports (devices that help with balance), while the hand of Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev rested on her shoulder. From a distance it looked like a miracle. But this is what football can do! And this is what a very young person is capable of.

The girl's name was Polina Khayeredinova and she was 12 years old. Her parents gave her up immediately after she was born, and she lived in an orphanage in the Tver region until she was two. Polina has been using a wheelchair for as long as she can remember. A football lover and keen CSKA fan, Polina's first request of her foster parents was for a ball.

During the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, she was tasked with walking Cristiano Ronaldo onto the field before a match. The Portuguese legend responded by presenting her with his team's official tracksuit top and giving her a kiss in front of the cameras.

Later, she admitted that she had dreamed of being on a football pitch again to sing the Russian anthem with our national team on the World Cup opening day -- standing up as is customary! Many thought that was too ambitious. But after having the chance to talk to Ronaldo, she was convinced that nothing was impossible in life. All you needed to do was wish for it with all your heart.

The charity fund Ronald McDonald House decided to get involved to make that dream come true. "To help Polina regain the use of her legs, we worked tirelessly the whole of last year," said Svetlana Polyakova, the head of the foundation. "First she was operated on in the Children's Republican Clinical Hospital in Kazan. This place has experts who can truly work miracles. She then underwent rehabilitation and was subsequently allowed to wear knee orthopaedic supports. At this point trainers from our foundation became involved. Polina dedicated herself to her recovery and worked really hard with them. They literally put her back on her feet."
Coca-Cola team
FLAGBEARERS
on the pitch at
the Luzhniki Stadium
any will remember the opening ceremony of the World Cup for the performances of Robbie Williams and Aida Garifullina, while for others it was the latter's stunning dress. However, there was another televised moment that will remain etched in everyone's minds.
There are many ways of becoming a participant in the World Cup. For instance, as ball boys and ball girls, whose job it is to retrieve the ball when it goes out of play. This is a more demanding task than might first appear. Players cannot simply stop or slow down when a match is in full swing, which is why these young assistants have to perform quickly and accurately. That is exactly what Karina Batyreva and Sabina Gadrshina did last June. The girls play for a women's team called Cadets based in the small town of Agryz in Tatarstan. Karina is a forward while Sabina plays defence. During the opening match of the World Cup they were both ball girls.

They secured an opportunity to take part in the global showpiece by winning a competition sponsored by Coca-Cola for participants in its Leather Ball youth tournaments. The competition requirements were not that complex, but applicants needed to get creative and compose a short story on the topic of "What football means for a team". For Karina and Sabina football wasn't just a game but their passion and perhaps even their future. The girls have already joined Tatarstan's youth team. Their dream is to participate in the World Cup again, but next time as players. "For now, we'll stand on the side-lines and watch matches live," Karina and Sabina said, laughing. "And we won't forget to hand over the ball!"

To be a stone's throw away from famous sportsmen is the ultimate dream of many children. Coca-Cola arranged three programmes to help make it come true. Other than being ball boys and ball girls, the youngsters also had an opportunity to become flag bearers, though in truth the primary task was to hand over the coin used to determine which team kicked off and at which end. "These programmes were part of the responsibilities to create a positive World Cup legacy taken on by our company," explained Oleg Piletsky, Public Affairs and Communication Manager for Coca-Cola 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. "Nowadays more than a million children all over Russia take part in the Leather Ball tournaments with our support. We hope that even more boys and girls will start playing football as a result of the tournament."

To perform the role of carrying national flags before matches, 768 girls and boys were selected, including 11 young athletes with mental health difficulties from the Special Olympics Russia.

"People with special needs possess unlimited potential, especially in sports," Piletsky added. "Our aim is to demonstrate that people can have equal opportunities regardless of their mental, sensory and physical abilities. Sport, especially football, possesses unique power to connect people and can serve as an instrument for inclusive societal development."

This is why 12-year-old Angelina Makarova was chosen to hand over the coin to the referee for the opening match. "Lina barely speaks," her mother, Olga, explained. "But when it comes to sport, she can take charge! Under her guidance children move twice as fast and wait for her orders. Lina communicates in the best way she can, using gestures. In terms of personality, she is a typical leader. But for her, how she operates is not what's important; it's all about the powerful emotions that she manages to generate among everyone else around her."
Retrieving balls and a coin for the ref
Igor Akinfeev helps
Polina Khayeredinova
OUT OF HER WHEELCHAIR
before the opening
match of Russia 2018
Helen, a flagbearer
for the Wanda team,
TRAVELLED FROM
CHINA
to be at
the World Cup
The stuff of dreams
For nine-year-old midfielder Denis Ionov, football means everything. Despite his tender age, he is on the books of Spartak Moscow, yet he still felt nervous about his role at the World Cup: carrying and handing the match ball to the referee. For a boy who is so passionate about football, which is part of his daily life, this opportunity was the equivalent of travelling into space.

It was an honour shared by other members of the KIA team who won a young refereeing competition.

Tigran Bakunts dreamed not only of participating in the final but also seeing his idol Cristiano Ronaldo in the flesh. Sadly for him, the Portuguese and their talisman exited the World Cup at the round of 16 stage, but at least the first part of Tigran's dream came to fruition. He earned this opportunity by winning a competition in which he created a funny video clip about himself. It showed him arranging a collection of football jerseys on his bed, performing various ball tricks and professing his love for Ronaldo. "It was such a surprise to win! While we were rehearsing, I kept worrying that I'd fail. Even now I'm so nervous!" he said before the final after being interviewed at the entrance to Luzhniki.

In total, 64 boys and girls were selected from around the world to carry the official match ball and lead out the officials and players.
All the flags
During the World Cup several surprises were in store for the children. As well as helping referees and being ball boys and girls, there were also the flag bearers. This particular World Cup programme was sponsored by both adidas and Wanda under which six children were meant to take part in each of the 64 matches. adidas recruited them via Instagram. The first post with the hashtag #myfootballstory appeared online, on an eighth-grader's page belonging to Varvara Antonova. Later on, Varya shared her impressions. "When you come out onto the pitch and realise that 80,000 people are looking at you, it's such an adrenaline rush. Honestly, I was so nervous before our entrance. Keeping a flag taut while carrying it is tricky. All your movements need to be precise and measured. But as soon as I emerged, the fear disappeared and I suddenly felt
ecstatic."
Russia defender
Ilya Kutepov
exchanges
pre-match
HIGH FIVES
with some
player mascots
The mascot accompanying
Iceland national team captain
Aron Gunnarsson CANNOT
TAKE HIS EYES OFF LIONEL
MESSI
Polina thinks that the role of a coach suits her best. She has even started training for it with her team. She enjoys explaining tactics by using a stick to draw diagrams in sand. But, overall, she is a born goalkeeper and it is no surprise that her favourite player is Igor Akinfeev. After the Confederations Cup, he personally invited Polina to a training session and gave her his goalkeeping jersey and a ball signed by all the CSKA players as gifts.

Polina met her idol yet again at the Luzhniki stadium at the opening World Cup match

between Russia and Saudi Arabia. She proudly led out Akinfeev, Russia's captain, while fans around them were cheering and waving flags. The whole team was ready to fight until the final whistle blew. And so was Polina. "I stood up using these knee supports and my long-term aim is to start walking again."

Polina will probably remember the opening ceremony of the World Cup for the rest of her life. Accompanying players onto the pitch is one of the key programmes sponsored by McDonald's (since 2002), a FIFA World Cup Sponsor of 25 years.

This is how, unexpectedly, everything came together
in one place at the same time; kids and grown-ups, footballing passions, everyday heroic acts, physical disability and the means of overcoming it. Many of our tournament recollections will fade over time, but the moment captured by the world's cameras, when the Russian national anthem started and a little girl got up from her wheelchair with a concerted effort, will remain with us for a long time.
Referee NÉSTOR PITANA
and his fellow officials
await the start of the
Russia-Saudi Arabia
match, along with mascot
ANGELINA MAKAROVA
Денис Ионов попал
на поле благодаря
программе KIA
«ЮНЫЙ АРБИТР»
Li Sirong and Lin Jiayi from China agreed that being a flag bearer was a challenging task, but it was even more difficult to become a part of the Wanda group. Applicants needed to go through a tough selection process, the first requirement being knowledge of English. Truth be told, though, on arrival in Russia Li realised that not many people around him were able to communicate with him in English, whereas the language of football was universal.

Li decided to become a footballer a long time ago and is confident that he will, one day, be good enough to be part of the Chinese national team. Lin also sees his future in football, though he does not wish to become a player, rather a sports journalist, with an opportunity to capture what he describes as "happy football" in his reports. He actually used those words.

You could argue that this is the most apt definition of what we all witnessed, especially those of us who participated.

It was extremely heart-warming that such well-conceived programmes by the sponsors ensured that deserving children were given important roles and had the chance to experience being a part of such a huge footballing celebration. Most importantly, the World Cup taught them to empathise, help, think of others, and always aim to win.
Flagbearers
ENTER THE PITCH
at the Ekaterinburg
Stadium, ahead of
France's meeting
with Peru
ому-то церемония открытия чемпионата мира запомнилась песнями Робби Уильямса, кому-то – роскошным платьем Аиды Гарифуллиной. Но был один кадр, который запал в память всем. Когда под звуки российского гимна неизвестная девочка в красных шортах и желтой футболке встает с инвалидной коляски. Длинные гольфы скрывали ортезы (приспособления, которые помогают удерживать баланс), а на ее плече покоилась рука вратаря российской сборной Игоря Акинфеева. Со стороны это было похоже на чудо. Вот на что способен футбол! Вот что может совсем юное существо!

Девочку зовут Полина Хаерединова. Ей 12 лет. Родители отказались от нее сразу после рождения, и до двух лет она жила в детском доме в Тверской области. Всю свою жизнь она передвигается в инвалидном кресле, но, сколько себя помнит, обожает футбол и болеет за ЦСКА. Когда ее забрали в семью приемные родители, первое, о чем она попросила, – подарить ей футбольный мяч. А в 2017-м на Кубке Конфедераций девочке было поручено вывести на матч Криштиану Роналду. Легендарный футболист подарил ей тренировочную куртку сборной Португалии и поцеловал перед объективами всего мира.

Позже девочка призналась, что мечтает снова оказаться на футбольном поле в день открытия ЧМ и вместе с нашей сборной спеть гимн России. И петь она будет, как и полагается, стоя! Многим тогда это заявление показалось слишком амбициозным. Но после общения с Роналду девочка пребывала в абсолютной уверенности, что в жизни нет ничего невозможного. Надо только очень захотеть.

Помочь ей взялся благотворительный фонд «Дом Роналда Макдоналда». «Чтобы Полина могла встать с инвалидной коляски, мы трудились без выходных весь прошлый год, – рассказала гендиректор фонда Светлана Полякова. – Сначала ей сделали операцию в детской республиканской клинической больнице в Казани. Там совершенно уникальные специалисты, способные творить чудеса. Затем провели курс реабилитации, после которого ей разрешили надеть ортезы. Тогда уже подключились и тренеры нашего фонда. Поля много и самоотверженно с ними работала,
и они в буквальном смысле слова поставили ее на ноги».
ому-то церемония открытия чемпионата мира запомнилась песнями Робби Уильямса, кому-то – роскошным платьем Аиды Гарифуллиной. Но был один кадр, который запал в память всем. Когда под звуки российского гимна неизвестная девочка в красных шортах и желтой
Many will remember the opening ceremony of the World Cup for the performances of Robbie Williams and Aida Garifullina, while for others it was the latter's stunning dress. However, there was another televised moment that will remain etched in everyone's minds.It was when an unknown girl rose from her wheelchair, wearing red shorts and a yellow T-shirt, to the sound of the Russian national anthem. Knee socks hid her orthopaedic supports (devices that help with balance), while the hand of Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev rested on her shoulder. From a distance it looked like a miracle. But this is what football can do! And this is what a very young person is capable of.

The girl's name was Polina Khayeredinova and she was 12 years old. Her parents gave her up immediately after she was born, and she lived in an orphanage in the Tver region until she was two. Polina has been using a wheelchair for as long as she can remember. A football lover and keen CSKA fan, Polina's first request of her foster parents was for a ball.

During the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, she was tasked with walking Cristiano Ronaldo onto the field before a match. The Portuguese legend responded by presenting her with his team's official tracksuit top and giving her a kiss in front of the cameras.

Later, she admitted that she had dreamed of being on a football pitch again to sing the Russian anthem with our national team on the World Cup opening day -- standing up as is customary! Many thought that was too ambitious. But after having the chance to talk to Ronaldo, she was convinced that nothing was impossible in life. All you needed to do was wish for it with all your heart.

The charity fund Ronald McDonald House decided to get involved to make that dream come true. "To help Polina regain the use of her legs, we worked tirelessly the whole of last year," said Svetlana Polyakova, the head of the foundation. "First she was operated on in the Children's Republican Clinical Hospital in Kazan. This place has experts who can truly work miracles. She then underwent rehabilitation and was subsequently allowed to wear knee orthopaedic supports. At this point trainers from our foundation became involved. Polina dedicated herself to her recovery and worked really hard with them. They literally put her back on her feet."
Flagbearers ENTER THE PITCH at the Ekaterinburg Stadium, ahead of France's meeting with Peru
Russia defender Ilya Kutepov exchanges pre-match HIGH FIVES with some player mascots
Denis Ionov found himself on the pitch thanks to the KIA YOUNG REFEREE programme
Helen, a flagbearer for the Wanda team, TRAVELLED FROM CHINA to be at the World Cup
Referee NÉSTOR PITANA and his fellow officials await the start of the Russia-Saudi Arabia match, along with mascot ANGELINA MAKAROVA
The mascot accompanying Iceland national team captain Aron Gunnarsson CANNOT TAKE HIS EYES OFF LIONEL MESSI
Igor Akinfeev helps Polina Khayeredinova OUT OF HER WHEELCHAIR before the opening match o Russia 2018
Coca-Cola team FLAGBEARERS on the pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium