Messi and Pinto surrounded by children in Bangkok / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

First team players Leo Messi and José Manuel Pinto were at an event in Bangkok on Tuesday organised by the FC Barcelona and Unicef to tighten the bond between the two organisations. The venue was Hotel Okura in Bangkok, and involved twenty children, seventeen of which have learning difficulties. They belong to the Thai Special Olympics team that has qualified for the Global Unified Cup 2014 in Brazil, organized by the Special Olympics and FIFA.

Importance of values

Isiye Ndombi, representative of Unicef in Asia, and Ramon Pont, first vice president of the FC Barcelona Foundation, started the event with a series of speeches. “By being here today, Barça is once again showing how the team’s values extend beyond the field of play and help to reinforce the importance of social inclusion among the most vulnerable children”, said Ndombi. “Values help us to win, we try to use the strengths of sport to help people to develop, especially children, and Unicef is a wonderful travel companion on that journey”, added Pont.

Question time

This was followed by a series of questions for Messi and Pinto. For example, they were asked what you have to do to become a great footballer, and were told in response that it needs “effort, sacrifice and a lot of training”. Asked what was different about playing with disabled players, Messi said that “I have played with disabled children at football many times and it's no different to playing with anybody else”. At the end of the interview, Messi and Pinto played a game with the children on a mini-field that had been set up in the room. The Argentinian gave them some advice with penalty taking, and Pinto took his place between the posts.

Working together

Through this activity, the FC Barcelona Foundation and Unicef wanted to offer yet more support and visibility to inclusive sport. Thailand is believed to have about a million people with learning difficulties, 600,000 of which are children. Recent studies have shown that 70 per cent of these could improve their physical, mental and communication skills if they are encouraged to do sport from a young age.

Since 2006, FC Barcelona and Unicef have held an alliance by which the club donates 1.5 million euros a year to support joint ventures between the two organisations. At the moment they are working on the use of sport in education in Ghana, China, South Africa and Brazil.