Kickabout for the sake of peace

LONDON: At first glance there was nothing too unusual about Brazil's 6-0 win over Haiti in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday – except that the match took place there at all. 

It is the kind of scoreline that would hardly have raised an eyebrow for anyone looking through the results of more than 40 internationals played around the world this week. 

But Wednesday's visit by the world champions to the most beleaguered country in the Caribbean was no ordinary friendly. 

Brazil have been highly praised for playing there along with some of their biggest names, like Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos of Real Madrid and Ronaldinho of Barcelona. 

Billed as the 'Peace Match', it was aimed at promoting harmony among the warring factions and arranged on the initiative of the United Nations, FIFA and the Brazilian government, whose troops lead the UN peacekeeping force after civil unrest left many dead. 

In Haiti, once established as one of the football giants in the Caribbean with their qualification for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, soccer has been a casualty of the political upheaval faced by the nation over the last year. 

The FIFA-funded Haitian Football Federation headquarters and technical training centre, inaugurated in April 2002, was left looted and destroyed following the civil unrest. 

In May, FIFA's Finance Committee donated US$200,000 from its Humanitarian Fund to restore the facilities. 

Wednesday's match was part of the restoration process and attracted a capacity 15,000 crowd. It was played on a newly-laid artificial pitch. 

The spectators were given an exhibition of some of Brazil's magical moments with Ronaldinho scoring a hat-trick, Fluminense midfielder Roger chipping in with two goals on his debut and substitute Nilmar rounding out the scoring. 

The highlight was Ronaldinho's first goal in the 33rd minute when he waltzed through a bemused Haiti defence to score. 

It was Brazil's first game since winning the Copa America in Peru last month and gave their famous players the chance to bring some lightness into the lives of a troubled people. 

Top sportsmen are – often rightly – criticised for their extravagant lifestyles, selfishness and profligacy. 

Eight years ago Italian Primo Nebiolo, the late president of athletics' world governing body the IAAF, organised a peace meeting in Sarajevo, which was then slowly recovering from the ravages of the troubles in the Balkans. 

Many of the stars who took part said afterwards that it was one of the major highlights of their careers. 

A number of FIFA's international referees have become deeply involved with social projects in troubled parts of Africa, especially Sierra Leone, and talk about their experiences there in the same way they reminisce about handling major finals. 

With the Olympic Games in Athens the focus of much of the world's attention, Brazil's visit to Haiti took place away from the limelight which is another reason to stress the contribution the players made in bringing some joy to the lives of Haitians. 

FIFA president Sepp Blatter is often accused of making hasty comments about football matters but his praise for the Brazilians this week was timely – if a little overblown. 

“The Football for Peace match is further proof of the beautiful game's genuine role in making the world a better place. It's a demonstration of the universality of our sport. 

“In the year of FIFA's Centennial celebrations, we are proud to see the Fair Play Family making a difference with their support of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti. 

“We can clearly see that the game of the people truly makes a positive impact on the world – let us make goals, not war!” 

Haiti have already been eliminated from the 2006 World Cup after losing in an early qualifying round to Jamaica so they won't be making a return trip to Germany for the Finals. 

But at least they got to see the world champions play and, who knows, perhaps the Brazilians took something from the match that will help them retain the world title in two years' time. – Reuters 

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