Children from nine countries joined the stars of FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC and the referee team at Tuesday's UEFA Super Cup match to transmit a powerful message of hope – 'Football United for Peace'.
This unique and historic moment at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena in Tbilisi, Georgia, ahead of the all-Spanish showpiece between last season's UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League winners, featured a human chain comprising the players from both teams, the match officials, and some 1,000 children and accompanying adults from Georgia and neighbouring countries Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.
The idea of creating a human chain was initiated jointly by the Georgian Football Federation (GFF) and the UEFA Foundation for Children.
The GFF has seized the moment with the foundation's backing and the total support of the eight other FAs. The spotlight was on children from conflict zones in Europe, conveying the idea of peace and unity, and showed just how football can act as a unifying force.
All of the nine national associations involved approached recognised institutions who support vulnerable children. The criteria were that the children had to be: aged between ten and 12 and local grassroots tournament winners; children from orphanages; refugees from occupied territories of Georgia; or children from military families who had lost family members in military operations.
The opening ceremony began with Georgian folk dancing to celebrate the two sides' characteristics, before the players entered the field for the UEFA Super Cup anthem. This was followed by the human chain, and a group of Georgian children aged between ten and 13 then performed John Lennon's song Imagine.
A performance by leading Georgian dance group Erisoni, celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, involved around 200 people – professional dancers, teenagers and child drummers. The teenagers held giant banners depicting the UEFA Europa League trophy, UEFA Champions League trophy and UEFA Super Cup logo, with 3D letters spelling out the teams' names and the motto 'Football United for Peace'.
UEFA President Michel Platini was full of praise for these efforts. "Football gives us a great opportunity to be united as a society, and to empower children," he said. "Childhood is a time when we exhibit the most extraordinary potential, and we hope that the presence of these children at this great occasion in Tbilisi can be inspirational for their futures.
"We would like to thank the Georgian Football Federation and its president, Zviad Sichinava, for the work undertaken with the UEFA Foundation for Children," Mr Platini added, "in order to make a difference to vulnerable children through this project."
The UEFA Foundation for Children, launched in April this year, was established on Michel Platini's initiative, and aims to help children and safeguard their rights, using sport to support humanitarian projects linked to children's rights in a variety of areas.
"Everyone will receive a message of peace and unity from the children – a message that is important for society," said GFF president Zviad Sichinava. "The inclusion of this message in the pre-match ceremony shows how important these core values are to UEFA – values which led to the inauguration of the UEFA Foundation for Children.
"I would like to thank all the participating associations for their support in working together to use football's vast popularity as a platform to promote these vital values to a global audience."
Oleksandr Kodenko, a chaperone from Ukraine, said: "The kids have unforgettable impressions, they're nearly shocked in a good way, their eyes are so big. Our group are winners of a football tournament and got this trip as a prize."
Moldovan chaperone Alexandra Danilenko added: "It's important that kids from different countries get to speak to each other. We already made good friends with kids from Azerbaijan.
From the host nation, Georgia, Georgi Silagava, said: "This is a very big thing for us, because Georgia rarely hosts the stars of such magnitude. One would never thing Georgia will witness a player like Messi. It's a big motivation for the kids, they were very happy to find out they are taking part. The parents told us some of them were not sleeping because of how excited they were."
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