For over a decade the Caju complex used to be one of the most violent areas of Rio de Janeiro. “I lived in front of the square where the criminals and traffickers walked around with guns and did as they pleased. They don’t any more,” says 13-year-old Joao Carlos, who was born and bred in the neighbourhood. Things started to change in 2012 when the local council decided to make use of an abandoned zone, giving rise to the Mane Garrincha Olympic Village, the venue of the Football for Hope Festival 2014.
“The Olympic Village changed the face of our community,” explains local project manager Manoel Augusto de Araujo. “It’s truly one of the best things that could have happened to us. This zone was lying to waste, full of rubbish, scrubland and vermin, then the village was built.” The leisure centre completely transformed Caju, bringing security to the area. “It’s a calm neighbourhood now. Before it was so dangerous I wouldn’t let my kids out on the streets,” adds Araujo, 55, who has six children and five granddaughters.
Crime levels plummeted and today the Mane Garrincha Olympic Village is used by around 20,000 people a month. The complex includes a football pitch, a covered sports court and an equipped gym and the public can choose from an array of activities such as football, basketball, ballet, handball, capoeira, taekwondo or hockey. The complex is open from 7.00 am to 10.00 pm and is free of charge. For the older segment a physiotherapist and a nurse are available. “They can attend exercise classes or do gymnastics or ballroom dancing. We have an 80-year-old white-haired gentleman who keeps up with the best of them!”
As part of the Football for Hope Festival 2014 inauguration ceremony, the Mane Garrincha Olympic Village was visited by the famous Brazilian artist Romero Britto, who painted a mural with the aid of students from the Olympic Experimental Gymnasium, which is part of the complex. The message they left could not have been more appropriate, Britto and the students engraving “reciclar agora” (recycle now) on the former wasteland.
“The idea is to encourage sustainability," explained the artist. "It’s a worldwide issue, and here in Brazil people are equally concerned about recycling and the environment. The idea is that the kids will see the image and talk about the mural at home, at school, with their friends. The goal is to encourage recycling."
The Football for Hope Festival 2014 brings together delegations from 32 youth organisations that are carrying out FIFA-sponsored community projects. The participants were selected because of their excellent leadership qualities and the contributions they have made to building a better future through football in their respective localities. The broad scope of projects are geared towards alleviating a variety of social problems such as homelessness in the United Kingdom, landmines in Laos, HIV/AIDS education in Africa and responsible citizenship in Brazil. During the festival the project leaders will share information about best practices, play football with one another and enjoy themselves at the FIFA World Cup™.
The festival programme includes several cultural and educational activities for the delegations, culminating in a football tournament where mixed teams will compete without referees. Any disagreements on the pitch will be solved through dialogue, a method that encourages personal development and mutual understanding.
This official 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil event will take place in the Mane Garrincha Olympic Village from 7 to 10 July, and will show the impact that football can have in bringing about social advancement. The initiative will showcase fair play, passion for football and cultural diversity through the wide-ranging origins of the participants.