Walking out onto the pitch at a major international tournament hand-in-hand with your idol is a dream for any young football fan, and this dream is going to come true for more than 350 youngsters aged six to ten at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017.
On Tuesday, 40 children from Moscow orphanages, foster homes and large low-income families gathered at youth academy FK Megasfera's indoor facility in Moscow under the assumption they would just be playing football. However, the football-mad youngsters could never have guessed the massive surprise that was in store for them.
They were all signed up to the exclusive Programme "Going to the FIFA Confederations Cup together with McDonald’s” and as a result they will be able to walk out with players from hosts Russia, FIFA World Cup™ champions Germany and winners of continental championships before matches at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017.
"I love football and support Russia. Hopefully I’ll be on the pitch arm to arm with Russia’s captain”, exclaimed 9 year-old Georgy.
Since the Player Escort programmes were launched in 2002, McDonald’s has given more than 10,000 children the opportunity to be part of major football competitions. The Confederations Cup in 2017 will be no different, apart from one key element: for the first time in history the player escorts will include children with disabilities. Physical disability did not prevent ten-year-old Polina Khayeredinova from getting involved in the football festival at FK Megasfera, nor will it stop her from accompanying a footballer out onto the pitch at the Tournament of Champions in Russia.
"My brother’s been practising football for a long time and I often help him with his training, acting as a goalkeeper” Polina explained with a smile. “Frankly speaking, I’ve always aspired to find myself at the big stadium and to feel the atmosphere of the great sporting event. My dream will come true very soon”.
Any child aged six to ten can be chosen as a player escort this summer; they just need to participate in the McDonald’s Player Escort Programme creativity competition.
“Our longtime FIFA World Cup sponsor McDonald’s will once more be at the heart of the football action for the 2017 edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia”, FIFA Chief Commercial Officer Philippe Le Floc’h said. “Amongst their wide range of activities surrounding the Tournament of Champions, the Player Escort programme is truly a highlight of McDonald’s campaign. For FIFA, the McDonald’s Player Escort programme has been an extremely rewarding part of our match protocol ever since 2002 and a celebration of football for young fans that we look forward to continue as part of this great partnership.”
"McDonald’s in Russia has always supported socially-oriented programs, especially in the area of physical activities and sports. We have launched a number campaigns promoting balanced eating and active lifestyle," President of McDonald’s in Russia Khamzat Khasbulatov explained. "We are proud to have supported FIFA World Cup tournaments for more than 20 years to make these football fests possible and to share the football spirit with our guests and employees. Today we have one more cause to be proud of: for the first time in football history the Player Escorts will include children with disabilities. It is another step on the way to creating a no-barriers environment in Russia and providing equal opportunities for all the children, regardless of their state of health."
“There is a beautiful and good-natured tradition in football when kids escort players on the field," said LOC Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Vitaly Mutko. "In this way football unites generations. This tradition will continue for the FIFA World Cup and FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. I am happy that today FIFA and the LOC, together with McDonalds, kick-started this important programme."
The children will get to live their dreams at the Confederations Cup, which is being held from 17 June to 2 July this summer, but they were already given a taste of the upcoming football festival on Tuesday: waiting to greet the youngsters on the pitch was Zabivaka™ the wolf, the Official Mascot of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
The children were then split into four teams of ten, each of which was bolstered by former Russia players Roman Shirokov, Alexey Smertin, Dmitri Sennikov and Evgeny Aldonin. The football stars also handed out special souvenir medals to the kids after their games.
"Many times I was holding children's hands when I was entering the pitch before matches and saw their emotions," said former Russia captain Roman Shirokov. "Some of them were worried, some of them were inspired. In any case, these were unforgettable experiences for the children."
A photo with the FIFA Confederations Cup Winners Trophy, brought specially to Moscow for the occasion, will ensure the youngsters never forget this day, while they are one step closer to the huge celebration of football taking place in June and July.