Football in the fight against poverty
© AFP

The Rosaleda stadium in Malaga was full to the brim with 28,963 spectators on Monday evening for the fifth annual Match Against Poverty. Ronaldo's men versus Zinedine Zidane's team - a dream match-up all to raise funds for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which saw plenty of attacking football and a 2-2 draw at the final whistle.

The Brazilian and French maestros invited some 40 players, including Robert Pires (Villarreal), Victor Valdez and Eidur Gudjohnsen (Barcelona), Michel Salgado and Roberto Soldado (Real Madrid), Carlos Diogo and Ricardo Oliveira (Real Zaragoza), Aitor Ocio (Athletic Bilbao), Idriss Kameni (Espanyol), Renato (Sevilla), Antonio Lopez and Mista (Atletico Madrid), Nuno and Pedro Emanuel (Porto), Peter Jehle (Boavista), Roque Junior (Duisburg), Tresor LuaLua (Olympiakos), Juliano Belletti (Chelsea), Pavel Nedved (Juventus) and Sami Al Jaber (Saudi Arabia). The two teams were coached by Mexico's Javier Aguirre (Atletico Madrid) and Bulgaria's Hristo Stoichkov, with charismatic Italian ref Pierluigi Collina in charge of proceedings.

"Despite what a lot of people think, there is a real sense of solidarity throughout football," explained Zidane, who retired from the game after the 2006 FIFA World Cup™.

The reasoning behind the game was not purely footballing, of course. The main aim was to get the public to unite behind the fight against poverty. It was also an opportunity to remind people of the collective responsibility to ensure that the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), adopted in 2000 by 191 heads of state and government and which are designed to reduce poverty by half between now and 2015, notably by fighting against famine, disease, illiteracy and discrimination towards women, are met.

As has always been the case, the net proceeds from the match will help to finance projects designed to fight poverty, selected by the UNDP in Africa, Latin America, Asia and in emerging nations in Eastern Europe.

The money raised at the four previous events has among things provided school equipment for 3,000 children in Haiti; helped build a health centre and a school in Congo Democratic Republic; created 350 construction jobs in Sri Lanka where 75 washing areas, 44 public toilets and many other clean water conveyances were built; opened a training centre for young blind people in Ethiopia; set up small businesses for women in Comoros, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso, trained 1,200 employees in 200 companies in Namibia and 93 guava growers in Colombia and built sports centres for poor and abandoned kids in Morocco.

Other initiatives to fight poverty have been financed in Brazil, Bhutan, Cuba and in Vietnam. More recently, 300 rickshaw drivers in Madagascar were given bicycle rickshaws, considerably improving their working conditions, while in Tanzania, women were trained to build ovens (200 of them) and also shown how best to use them, how to obtain mechanical agricultural equipment and to install platforms which enable palm oil to be processed and soap to be produced. 60 people were also trained about optimal energy practices and environmental concerns. In Uganda, 400 bicycles were given to women who provide a peace-keeping service principally for populations which were forced to move on and are now be relocated back to their homelands.

With almost 30,000 spectators in Malaga (prices ranged from 10-25 euros), the takings from the evening should provide an important contribution to the UNDP, with the hope, of course, that such matches will no longer be necessary in the future...