On Monday evening, less than a month after hosting the Europa League Final, Juventus Stadium was the venue for a very different event. Having recovered from that continental showpiece – and the celebrations of La Madama’s own domestic title in the intervening weeks – their Turin home was the stage for the first ever UNESCO Cup.
Legends from Italian football’s grand Old Lady and Real Madrid faced off, holding a one-off match with the aim of raising funds for the reintegration of child soldiers in Mali and the Central African Republic. Having squared off in a similar event in the Spanish capital last year, the exhibition game brought players like Edgar Davids, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Christian Vieri back to the Bianconeri, lining up against the likes of Fernando Morientes, Michel Salgado and Clarence Seedorf.
If the star-laden team sheets captured the imagination, even the pre-match warm-ups were a sight to behold, with Real Madrid’s seemingly endless rondo leaving two of their number breathlessly chasing shadows. At the other end of the field, Pavel Nedved’s every touch was meant with vociferous roars from the approving home crowd, the retired Czech still held in high esteem by supporters everywhere.
The iconic players did their part in putting on a show for those fortunate enough to be at Juventus Stadium, not least of all 47-year-old Ciro Ferrara with a superb overhead kick on the goal-line to prevent the visitors taking the lead. Morientes and Alessio Tacchinardi would trade goals before half time, as would Zidane before taking his no. 5 Real Madrid shirt and pulling on the black and white stripes one more time. Having represented both clubs, the Frenchman would represent both here, his reappearance after the break drawing the biggest cheer of the night, and it was easy to get caught up in the carnival atmosphere the fans created throughout a nostalgia laden ninety minutes.
But the exhibition match carried with it a meaningful underlying message, and not just in the anti-racism messages flashed around the stadium’s advertising hoardings throughout the evening. In the days leading up to the meeting with Real Madrid, the Serie A champions had entered into a partnership with UNESCO to promote inclusion and to combat all forms of discrimination. Meeting with at the United Nations’ agency’s Paris Headquarters to formalise the agreement with Irina Bokova, the UNESCO Director General spoke of “the struggle against discrimination” and her delight in joining forces with “one of the game’s giants.”
Andrea Agnelli echoed her in celebrating the collaboration, continuing his club’s efforts to reduce the number of unsavoury banners and chants which have blighted football on the peninsula in recent years. “Juventus Football Club has undertaken a strong commitment towards foster inclusion and against discrimination,” the President told reporters in the French capital, adding they were “pleased to join UNESCO’s efforts because we consider this a priority in the social engagement of football.”
The proceeds of Monday’s event will provide children in those worn-torn countries with access to literacy programmes, training in employable trades such as masonry and carpentry, and participation in cultural, sporting and artistic events to build their confidence. It is hoped this will ensure they can look forward to a brighter future, but Juventus are equally proud of a research project which they will also be funding over the next twelve months.
As part of their latest partnership, the club will finance a ground-breaking global research programme into the problem of racism and discrimination in sport. The findings will be published by in a UNESCO report aimed at providing governments and other stakeholders with insight into these social problems, and guidance on how they can be eradicated from sport altogether.
Further goals included a wonderful finish from Seedorf which delighted the crowd of over 22,000, but the final score was meaningless in comparison to the work being done to help UNESCO now and in the future.
Juventus: Stefano Tacconi; Moreno Torricelli, Ciro Ferrara, Massimo Carrera, Alessandro Birindelli; Angelo Di Livio, Mauro Camoranesi, Alessio Tacchinardi, Edgar Davids, Pavel Nedved; Nicola Amoruso
Real Madrid: Pedro Contreras; Miguel Salgado, Fernando Hierro, Francisco Pavon, Aitor Karanka; Claude Makelele, Christian Karembeu, Clarence Seedorf, Zinedine Zidane, Fernando Morientes, Juan Esnaider
Attendance: 22, 056