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A tournament to change the world

Global Goals World Cup Nairobi flyer | Photo credit: ©GGWCup 

5.3.2017 – If you happened to be in Nairobi last weekend, you might not only have sunburn, but also possibly been star struck wandering around the city when Game of Thrones actor, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, was in town for the women’s football tournament, the Global Goals World Cup.

The Danish actor, best known for his role as ‘The Kingslayer’ Jaime Lannister, had replaced chainmail and his knighthood for a whistle and his real-life mantle as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador. In the Kenyan capital, the seat of UNEP’s headquarters, he reprised his role as referee for the tournament, which was last held in New York City.

“My role is to reflect the attention around me to something greater and far more valuable,” said Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to the rolling cameras at the tournament. “All of these curves, statistics and graphs. Concepts like climate change and hunger. They can be kind of depressing to talk about. But to address them by using happiness and play – that works extremely well.”

Supported by UNDP, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a list of other international and local organizations, the Global Goals World Cup (GGWC) originated in Copenhagen last year as a non-profit ‘tribute to the power of sports to change the world’. Namely by using football to highlight the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The 17 Global Goals, including their recognition of gender equality, are fundamental for our international engagement. It is indeed worth playing for,” said Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Ulla Tørnæs, who also attended the event in Nairobi.

Her viewpoint is supported by Siddharth Chatterjee, UNDP Kenya Resident Representative, who called the tournament “an excellent opportunity to bring people together to engage and raise awareness of the most pressing challenges of our time”.

In the Global Goals World Cup (GGWC), teams of 5-8 women choose one of the 17 SDGs to play for. Points are given to the winner of the match itself and to the teams that best advocate and mobilize support for their cause. For example, through creative costumes or happenings during the tournament.

“One of our goals has been to create a new type of role model through this tournament. We want to profile the teams and tell their stories. Make them the type of stars that you would not normally see,” says Danish co-founder of GGWC Rikke Rønholt from Eir Soccer, the main organizer of the event.

She found that sport had a remarkable way of turning the otherwise abstract SDGs into something tangible. For instance by having the SDG logos on the ball, which also quickly became popular at other UN events.

“Football is often seen as a man’s world. So, when these cool women play, there is something empowering about it. It sends a strong message,” says Rikke Rønholt. “After a tournament, we see that the teams and audience create networks that facilitate and improve further work for the SDGs. It has a snowballing effect, and we want to keep expanding this inclusive event to make the SDGs even more visible and interesting to everyone.”

With its third event having been played in Kenya, the GGWC is spreading to all corners of the world. Currently, the organizers are in dialogue to visit Aarhus in Denmark, Jordan Dubai, Argentina, Greenland and Japan for the remainder of 2017 and 2018.

Although the tournament is still in the early stages, it continues to be praised and supported by both would-be, and current, partners and helpers. This makes it easy to find at least one local partner from corporate, cultural, NGO, governmental, educational or media sectors – a requirement from the organizers to ensure maximum cultural impact in the local community.

So far, the GGWC has also engaged local and international stars as both advocates and players. For instance, Danish-Iranian drummer Ihan Haydar, has created the anthem for the tournament and was seen in Nairobi playing for Goal 2 (Zero Hunger). And then there is of course the ‘Kingslayer’ who served as referee and says he would have loved to play for both Goal 5 (Gender Equality) and Goal 13 (Climate Change). He will have to make do with the referee whistle for some time, though. In GGWC, so far at least, only women are allowed to play for the throne. 


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