The official start of the Football for Friendship 2021 final events is 14th May. Source: Football for Friendship.

May 1st was the registration deadline for candidates wishing to take part in the Football for Friendship eWorld Championship, which is organised under the banner of Gazprom’s International Children’s Social Programme Football for Friendship (F4F). The official start of the Football for Friendship 2021 final events is 14th May.

Due to the pandemic, the project Football for Friendship is being organised this year in the form of an e-sports event. Boys and girls aged 12 to 14 years from 211 countries will come together in 32 Teams of Friendship to take part in the e-Championship of F4F 2021. The competition will be contested on “F4F World”, the football simulator that is available free of charge in 27 languages on MS Windows, Apple macOS, Android and iOS. The simulator can also be used outside of the actual championship by fans of the online game, all year round, worldwide and free of charge.

As Vladimir Serov, the Global Director of the Football for Friendship programme, explains, “Football for Friendship has been organised by Gazprom since 2013. In its first seven seasons, the project brought together thousands of boys and girls of various nationalities in the host cities of the UEFA Champions League final to play sport, to talk to each other and to exchange experience. In view of Covid-19 and the restrictions associated with it, we decided at fairly short notice in 2020 to switch temporarily to a digital format. In doing so, we wanted to contribute to children being able to remain in contact with each other in a worldwide network under the unifying umbrella of the Nine Values of F4F, friendship, equality, fairness, health, peace, devotion, victory, traditions, and honour.”

Within just a few months, the multiplayer simulator F4F World had been created. It is a gaming platform on which international team matches can be organised in real time. The particular features of “F4F World” include an original, hand-drawn design, a unique profile modification function, the option of playing in various divisions and leagues, of founding one’s own club or of inviting randomly selected players from around the world to take part in the match. For 2021, the developers at the company DataArt have added some new features as well.

F4F has initiated a broad discussion about how to adapt children’s football to the conditions prevalent in the corona pandemic. At the International Football for Friendship Forum from 30th November to 3rd December 2020, more than 100 successful projects on this topic were presented. For example, the Sri Lankan Schools’ Football Association (SLSFA) and the Sri Lankan Education Ministry presented an online concept for competitions and contests for children in all age groups. And the Brazilian Football Association launched several social projects, including ones that aimed to train goalkeepers, to make social services available or to support an active lifestyle whilst people are self-isolating because of the pandemic.

A further online event in 2020 discussed the topic “Motivation and training in the context of a pandemic: impacts of online technologies on sport”. Experts, including the e-sports stars from Schalke 04, all agreed that the pandemic was contributing to e-sport becoming better known and more widely available. The event delegates also identified numerous parallels with classical sport: league structures, competition, the mental demands placed on the players and regular training were just a few of the things the two types of sport have in common.

In a workshop run by media experts on the TV channel “Euronews”, the children and young people who took part learned all about modern sports journalism, digital technology, the production of high-quality films and a range of streaming products on smartphones.

The winners of the 2020 Football for Friendship eWorld Championship were the team “Granular salamander”, whose players came from Bosnia Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Latvia, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Turkey. The highlights of the 2021 Championship are the official draw of the teams on 14th May, the online International Friendship Camp on 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd May and the 2021 Football for Friendship eWorld Championship from 27th to 29th May.

Whilst the contests are taking place in a digital format, the meeting of the National Ambassadors of F4F will be held once again this year as a face-to-face event. Representatives of the football community will discuss the current challenges for the sporting development of children, and there will be an exchange of experience too.

“I hope very much that the pandemic will soon be just a memory and that action-packed football and other sports events will once again be held out of doors in the fresh air and sunshine. Nevertheless, we are entering a new digital era in which we make active use of hybrid forms of communication. So, I would like to wish the organisers every success with future F4F seasons and am particularly pleased to see that, despite all the current circumstances, the programme remains true to the principles of sustainability,” said Frank Ludolph, Head of Technical Development at UEFA, at the end of 2020.

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