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Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff has expressed his gratitude to UEFA following the presentation of the €1m 2013 UEFA Monaco Charity Award to his Johan Cruyff Foundation, which will provide an important boost to an organisation which helps nurture the mental and physical well-being of children and young people.
Cruyff – a three-time winner of the European Champion Clubs' Cup with AFC Ajax and later a UEFA Champions League-winning coach with FC Barcelona – received the award from UEFA President Michel Platini at the official European club season kick-off gala dinner in Monaco on Thursday.
"It makes a big difference," Cruyff told UEFA.com about the award ahead of the presentation ceremony. "Firstly, because it's a confirmation of what we do, the importance of what we do. And UEFA of course is a big organisation, [it helps] people who are doing something and organises it in a good way. And we try to gather all kinds of things, so sport is a leading line in that; sport takes you that way. And social life is added to that, education and rules of how you should behave – those are actually the rules of life and that's actually what we try to do."
The Cruyff Foundation was launched in 1997. For Cruyff, the inspiration had come from a friendship he developed with a young boy with Down's syndrome while he was living in the United States. The boy loved sport but had been unable to play alongside other children through fear of rejection. Cruyff spent time teaching him how to play football, boosting his self-esteem and providing him with a safe place to play. Then, one day, Cruyff came home to find the boy playing football in the street alongside other children.
This led Cruyff to reflect on how children could be motivated to be active and to enjoy sport. He realised that his foundation could help children integrate in their neighbourhoods and their communities, to stay healthy – and, at the same time, focus on some of society's basic values such as teamwork and respect.
This year's Monaco Charity Award reflects the commitment of European football's governing body to promoting social values and a healthy lifestyle through grassroots football. "Our contribution will help build pitches across Europe – Cruyff Courts – to encourage children to play sports by giving them back their playgrounds," said Mr Platini on announcing the award.
"The organisation creates safe places for children to practise sports and organises events to stimulate play and education," explained the foundation's director, Carole Thate. "The foundation does this by building Cruyff Courts – small artificial-turf football pitches – all around the world, by financing sport projects for children with disabilities and through our latest project, Schoolyard14 [14 was the shirt number made famous by Cruyff], which encourages children in primary schools to play sports. We want to make schoolyards more challenging and better for sport.
"If you want to stimulate children to play sports, you need to start off by giving them back their playgrounds," added Thate. "The first Cruyff Court in 2003 arose from this idea. A Cruyff Court is a place where children can play football, but it is designed to be so much more than just a football pitch. It is a place where children learn all about respect, responsibility and integration through sport. They learn to cooperate, to start friendships, to stand up for themselves and for others, to win and to lose. These experiences are essential throughout the rest of their lives."
Currently, there are 176 Cruyff Courts across Europe, of which 151 are in the Netherlands. Every week, over 15,000 young people participate in organised activities on these courts, such as the Cruyff Courts' 6 vs 6 football tournament and the Cruyff Foundation community programme. Worldwide, over 20,000 children have taken part in Cruyff Courts 6 vs 6, and almost 900 children are in the community programme.
The award will be spent on the development of six new pitches in six European countries, to be located at central meeting places in neighbourhoods, ideally next to a school, community centre or youth centre, and offering at least six hours of structured activities a week. They are places where, as Cruyff puts it, "quality of life becomes many times better through sport".
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