Youngsters from orphanages who took part in the charity initiative organised by the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ Organising Committee and FIFA have received signed letters and cards from football stars, giving some evidence that football is a great tool to do good and fulfil children's dreams.
The campaign began in December 2015 in all eleven Host Cities of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. At the time, 1990 World Cup champion Lothar Matthaus visited a children's home in Moscow, while Russia 2018 Volunteer Centre staff held lessons and quizzes on FIFA’s World Cup history in orphanages in every Host City. The winners of the quizzes were given a chance to write letters to their idols, Russian and international football stars such as Neymar, Gerard Pique, Xavi, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan, Lothar Matthaus, Nadine Kessler, Roman Shirokov, Igor Akinfeev, Artem Dzyuba, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Dmitri Kombarov and Aleksandr Kokorin.
Once the famous footballers had received the letters and cards from the kids in Russia, they all replied and finally the long-awaited responses reached their recipients. The FIFA World Cup Volunteer Centres took care of the last leg of the journey, delivering the footballers' messages to the children.
Antonina won the football quiz in Nizhny Novgorod and wrote to Xavi, receiving a card in response with kind wishes. “Honestly, I wasn't expecting a reply and had thought it was just a nice campaign for New Year's,” Antonina revealed. “I was so delighted when I got a card from such a well-known player. It will remind me about the upcoming World Cup and I hope I get to go to one of the matches.”
Kirill is a pupil at the Kirovgradskaya Correctional School for Orphans in Sverdlovskaya Oblast and admitted that after he wrote a letter to Aleksandr Kokorin wishing him good luck, he worried that a reply might not come at all: “But then they handed me a card with his autograph and I was filled with joy. I will put it in my box so nobody can take it.”
One of the players the children wrote to was World Cup champion and Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, who described his feelings and impressions at taking part in the initiative. “As a father of two children I was touched to receive so many lovely cards from kids from all around Russia,” Pique said. “I’m delighted to be involved in this project. It’s important to share some happiness and solidarity with those most deserving our support.”
Pique's team-mate and Brazil striker Neymar thanked the youngsters for their creativity and explained how happy he was to read their questions and messages of good luck. “I was very happy to be able to answer the letters and to get in touch with the kids,” Neymar declared. “It’s always important for me when I see the kindness and the admiration people have for me and the thing that I love to do most. I hope I’ve returned the love in the best way possible. I write to the kids in Russia with the same affection that I have for the children at my Instituto Projeto Neymar Jr.”
Russia captain Roman Shirokov spoke out on behalf of the contingent of Russian footballers who lent a hand during the campaign: “It was a real pleasure to receive support from these young fans who themselves are in need of it.”
Roman also believes that similar initiatives and campaigns are very important for footballers. “We can see that the whole of Russia is supporting and thinking about us and we're delighted to be able to chat with young fans through a medium that's almost been forgotten: writing actual letters and cards, like back in our childhoods.”
Without a doubt, the essence of the LOC's and FIFA's charity initiative was best summed up by the chairperson of the FIFA World Cup Volunteer Centre in Nizhny Novgorod, Aleksandra Mirolyubova: “It was so great to present the children with their signed cards, proof that fairy tales do happen in real life. And it was really wonderful that the World Cup brought this miracle to life.”