Life lessons from the beautiful game

At this match, "the Ball" is not only for kicking, but is also about forging solidarity between people to take action for a better world. Vietnamese students enjoyed a unique learning experience about gender equality and climate change through football at "One Ball, One World" training.

Hanh An, an undergraduate student in Hanoi, had her first experience with a football in March, thanks to an initiative to teach youngsters around the world important lessons reaching far beyond the sport itself, to include gender equality and even climate change.

“Before joining this programme, I have never imagined I can play football,” said the first-year student at the Academy of Journalism and Communication (AJC), who participated in the One Ball, One World event, held by FES in corporation with German non-profit Spirit of Football. “I also did not understand why and how football and climate change could be connected.”

The event held during 9-11 March at the AJC saw two days of workshops, closed with a public event and a friendly women’s football game refereed by former national female footballer Nguyen Thi Minh Nguyet.

The final day’s event, held at AJC’s football pitch, involved more than 200 participants, including leaders of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics alongside AJC lecturers and students.

Special guest Minh Nguyet, who received the Vietnam Golden Ball Award in 2015, shared her story of going professional despite resistance from her parents and society.

“From a young age, I wanted to devote my life to the ball. But coming from a farming family, particularly living in a rural area, I was not allowed by my mom. I had to convince my parents days after days, months after months; and finally, I became a professional footballer.” Her career has not been evenly strewn with roses, given the persistent discrimination between male and female football. “But being able to play football and living with my passion was the happiest thing for me. So, you should dare to live with your passion,” Minh Nguyet said.

The closing day saw hundreds of signatures and commitments to contribute to addressing gender inequality, and also climate change, a pressing issue for Vietnam.

The country’s youth is increasingly skilled with technology, foreign languages, and in other areas. But environmental literacy remains a challenge as the country strives for socio-economic growth. Many young people, including AJC students, see climate change as too abstract or over-arching to relate to their daily life, or think that their personal actions do not influence the big picture. And students who are interested in volunteering or other related activities do not know how to link this to climate change.

Learning about climate change is a fundamental step towards the sustainable development of Vietnam’s youth. In recognition of this, the Regional Climate and Energy project in Asia of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, based in Vietnam, has brought the topic to AJC students through the training programme One Ball, One World for Climate Action. In addition to climate change, the programme also aims at introducing students to the gender equality concept.

Simply spelling out the science behind the causes, consequences and solutions of climate change will not be enough to engage the youth. Ensuring that people take real steps towards mitigation, adaptation and transformation will require new values, behaviour, creative thinking, problem-solving skills and teamwork skills. The training from One Ball, One World has been designed to encourage critical analysis of causes and consequences, creative possible solutions to problems and working as a team to achieve the desired outcome: protecting The Ball without hurting anybody. The training also provided young female students who had never played football before chances to run, kick or play with the ball.

The Spirit of Football project is founded on the principle that linking the complex topic of climate change with football, which inspires many people worldwide, offers the opportunity to convey the topic in a more tangible way. It allows people to relate to it personally, emotionally, and locally.

Under the slogan “One Ball, One World” the programme received more than 5,000 signatures and pledges and visited 55 countries before reaching Vietnam, the first Asian stop on its educational and advocacy journey across the world to the Women World Cup 2023 in New Zealand.

“I learned how to pay more attention to the environment, to everyone around me and to myself,” said Giang Nguyen, a first-year AJC student majoring in mass communication. “I realised that to achieve success, each player, each member of the team must join hands for one common purpose. We have only one world. One person cannot bring about change, but with many I am sure we can make it.”

The Ball is not only for kicking, but is also about forging solidarity between people to take action for a better world. “We only have one ball, and we only have one world,” said Andrew Aris founder and chief executive of Spirit of Football. “We need to take care of both of them so that future generations can play the beautiful game on this beautiful planet.”


Pham Thi Bich Nga is Programme Coordinator of Climate & Energy Project at FES Vietnam.

Le Thu Trang is intern at FES Vietnam.

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