Watching your favorite team for the first time is a big deal for any young sports lover. The smell of the turf, the roar of the crowd, the feeling of being part of something bigger than your (admittedly not-that-big-yet) self—it’s an experience that can be treasured for the rest of your fandom-filled life.
Imagine the excitement then of the 11 “Young Ambassadors” who traveled from Japan, the UK, Argentina and Spain to escort players from their beloved FC Barcelona onto the field before the club’s final match of the season on May 20 with Real Sociedad.
The activity was part of “Goals Beyond the Game,” a program presented by Rakuten and FC Barcelona to empower the generations of tomorrow, aimed squarely at raising awareness of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2015. The program is one of the new and innovative ways Rakuten is empowering society through sustainable development.
To kick off the initiative, 11 children between the ages of 6 and 9, were selected by Rakuten to walk hand in hand with Barca’s starting side onto the Camp Nou pitch for the players’ entrance, with each ambassador wearing a t-shirt that represented their chosen SDG.
“Yuuto picked the 16th sustainable development goal, which is peace,” said Yuuto’s mother Chika, who accompanied her 8 year old son from Japan. “He always says he wants to get along well with other people and not fight.”
“It’s a really good initiative – just to promote the sustainable development goals to a wider audience is a great thing,” said Samuel, father of Ronnie, age 8 from the UK, who represented the SDG for Responsible Consumption and Production.
As for the kids’ feelings on the experience of escorting their idols onto the field:
“I really enjoyed it!” said Yuhito, age 7 from Japan. “I was so happy to hold the player’s hand.”
“It was amazing stepping out in front of a hundred thousand people!” said Simeon, age 6 from the United Kingdom.
“I’m really glad to have this experience—it was so awesome!” said Stefano, age 9 from Argentina.
While meeting the players was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip (and perhaps proved to be good luck for the team, with Barca securing a 1 – 0 victory), the children and their families were also treated to a number of special activities over their long weekend in Barcelona.
Highlights included a group dinner at NBA Cafe Barcelona, a special Camp Nou experience tour and a trip to Parc Güell and Sagrada Famillia, to enjoy some of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi’s most well-known works.
Though the ambassadors may not have shared a common language, by the end of their three days together, they were bonded by their love of FC Barcelona football. Clad in customized Barca kits, the children even looked like a team, cheering each other on as they took turns kicking balls at a target in the Rakuten Booth outside Camp Nou moments before their turn in the spotlight.
When it came time to take to the field, the ambassadors were ready. Along with their Barca counterparts, they drew one of the loudest applauses of the evening upon entering the stadium, helping to raise awareness of a very worthy cause.
“It was one of the proudest moments of my life,” said Adeniyi, father of Simeon after the match.
“It was unbelievable what happened… so many emotions at once,” added Claudia, mother of Stefano.
Paul, father of James from the United Kingdom, perhaps summed up the power and purpose of Goals Beyond the Game best: “anything we can do to make the world better… let’s start it now.”