The ninth edition of the Kuban Spring international women’s youth tournament has been successfully held in Sochi, Russia, home city for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
A USA representative side won the 12-team tournament but the real winner was not only football but international relations, with the event held amid an overwhelming atmosphere of camaraderie and goodwill. FIFA has long been involved in supporting the U-19 tournament, providing coaching courses and equipment among other contributions down the years.
“This tournament not only improves the skills of the young players but opens a world where there are no borders, nor cultural or language barriers,” said Thierry Regenass, FIFA Director of Development and Member Associations. “The only thing which counts is friendship and teamwork. The benefits of this tournament extend far beyond football.“
This cross-cultural meeting was exemplified by the hugely diverse teams in attendance, which hailed from three continents. Korea DPR, Romania, Iran and an Indian representative side comprised Group A. Group B featured Slovakia, Russia, USA and Turkey, while the final group contained Moldova, Azerbaijan, Estonia and Ukraine.
While the standard of football was high on the pitch, the annual tournament also continued its tradition for cross-cultural relations off the field. Song, dance, fun, new friendships and learning about other cultures were just some of the experiences for the teenage footballers over the past fortnight.
Hosted by the Football Union of Russia, the tournament aims to foster and encourage new and lasting friendships between young players with different languages, ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds. The atmosphere in the players’ village, while warm in the first week of the event, grew by the day to become fully integrated by the end of the tournament.
The off-pitch activities are designed to allow the girls to entertain each other creatively through native music and dance in a theatre style production every other evening, which brings all the participants together in a special bond. By the end of the two weeks, tears, kisses and embraces replaced the festivities as over 200 participants returned home from this unique event.
The special atmosphere generated by the hosts in the Krasnodar Territory was supplemented through the excellent base camp and pitch known as ‘Sputnik’. The standard of play in the tournament was of high quality, culminating with USA defeating Ukraine on penalties. It is likely, however, that the memories of building new friendships united by a common passion, will last longer than the on-field results.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Lauren Kovalchuk, a member of the victorious USA side. “It was weird having so many people together who spoke different languages. The language barrier was definitely different. And the food was different, as was the climate and the buildings we saw. It was just a great, great experience.”