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(02/6/10) The World Cup and UNICEF Kids

2003.06.18
■ The World Cup and UNICEF Kids SEOUL, 1-6-2002 (UNICEF) By Marc Vergara The 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan went off to a thunderous start for newcomers Senegal: playing in their first ever World Cup, they beat defending champions France 1-0 at the World Cup stadium in Seoul. Not as dramatic, but equally encouraging, was the joint UNICEF-FIFA campaign to "Say Yes for children" during the tournament, the first World Cup dedicated to a humanitarian cause. After months of negotiations and meetings, thousands of phone calls and emails, as well as a few press releases and some photo opportunities, it was indeed a joy to see children escorting French and Senegalese players on the pitch, wearing yellow t-shirts with the message "Say Yes to Children" written in red. The scene will be repeated for all the games in the competition. Giant screens/small screens Photo credit: UNICEF / Marc Vergara / May 2002 The giant screens in the stadium showed several UNICEF/FIFA PSAs. As the teams lined up with the children in front of them, the screens showed "UNICEF kids" for about 30-45 seconds - enormous time in today’s sponsorship world. Will this be picked up by the all important television networks? It is one thing to have PSAs showing on the giant screens in the stadium - an audience of 65,000 - quite another to have the message relayed to viewers abroad. But as Samuel Koo, Head of the UNICEF office in Tokyo, rightly indicates, if anyone in the stadium was not aware of UNICEF’s presence during the World Cup, they must have seen or heard the announcements. And "anyone" includes government officials (so many foreign delegations!), top executives among the sponsors, and of course the press. As journalists hate not knowing "who is doing what, when, where and why", they just have to mention the campaign otherwise the pictures on the screen become meaningless. Ambassador Weah Coverage and ensuing UNICEF visibility can also be down to sheer luck. A few days before the opening game, the UNICEF media team in Seoul finally found out where our Goodwill Ambassador George Weah was staying. He kindly returned a call introducing himself as "Ambassador Weah". We had a couple of interviews set up for him at the very efficient International Press Centre. So efficient, in fact, that when Ambassador Weah realized he had left his pass in another jacket (about 3 changes of clothes a day, he says), we were not allowed in. This turned out to be a stroke of luck. George Weah, tall and athletic, cut an imposing figure in his sharp suit and terrific sunglasses. He was quickly mobbed by journalists who recognized him, and greeted by a couple of former players acting as consultants for various TV outlets. Our man did about a dozen interviews in several languages, always starting with his role as UNICEF Ambassador and how he hoped his presence in Korea could help promote the cause of children worldwide. "The name is Moore" If anyone wonders about the cost of the exercise, spare a thought for another Goodwill Ambassador. "I guess I could say that the name is Moore, Roger Moore", he said as an introduction. At a press conference on 30 May, he was asked what advice he would give to a child hesitating between becoming an actor or trying his luck at football. "In today’s market", Sir Roger said, "I would definitely take football. Footballers earn certainly more that UNICEF ambassadors!". His trip to Korea and now Japan is providing excellent Value for Visibility. Former agent 007 was everywhere, shaking hands with presidents and prime ministers, making speeches (planned and improvised), answering questions from the press about UNICEF and about football ("Did you play football when you were a child? - I was used as a goalpost, that is why I took up swimming"), dancing the twist - oh yeah, being the guest of honour at the Andre Kim fashion show organised by and for the Korean Committee for UNICEF - with hundreds of paying guests, being the guest of honour again at the World Cup Eve Festival - including a river trip with 250 children coming from 48 countries, signing hundreds of autographs, posing for dozens of photos, but always managing to get back to UNICEF and the plight of children, always reminding his audience that this World Cup was dedicated to children. Despite the long hours, the delays, the tight schedules, the constant attention, he was always charming, patient, witty and polite - qualities appreciated everywhere, but especially in Asia - a real gentleman. We were left stirred, not shaken. The World Cup is now in full flow. Teams - players and coaches - are "300% focused" on the games (apparently it means more than 100% in the language of sports). And the Senegal-France result makes our promoting work with the teams more difficult, as coaches find it easier now to warn their players that all games will be difficult, and that they should avoid outside sollicitations. The next big event, as far as UNICEF is concerned, will be the World Cup Football Days for Children, on 19 and 20 June. If it goes the same way as the opening game, we’re in for more unadulterated joy.
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