The Ermelino Matarazzo district in São Paulo is a typical area on the periphery of a large Brazilian city. Not only is there a lot of drug dealing, violence and crime, but also poor schooling, a lack of future prospects and very little in the way of cultural and leisure facilities.
And that's a pity, says Joelke Offringa of Instituto Plataforma Brasil. “Because at the same time, it's also a district with young people dreaming of football, parents fully committed to their children and people looking for ways to guarantee a better future for the district and their children.”
To help change this, and to give a first push in the right direction, the idea came up of installing a Cruyff Court, following on from similar action in various other countries.
The idea proved to be a success, thanks in part to the cooperation with Clube Escola, the Sport Secretariate of the city of São Paulo. “A wonderful partner”, adds Offringa. “They offer constructive activities to young people at times of the day when they are not in school. Sport is used as a means for social change and the education of children and youngsters.”
And Offringa knows how important that is. No to mention the support received from AkzoNobel. The company has been a partner in the Ermelino Matarazzo project from the very beginning. Among other things, AkzoNobel has invested in the construction of the Cruyff Court and renovated the playing field with Coral products, the leading brand for decorative paints in Brazil.
“Naturally we were very pleased with this,” continues Offringa. “AkzoNobel has been a great partner. They offered constructive comments and actively anticipated our needs. They were also, first and foremost, concerned about the project's social importance – not just the visibility of their brand.”
Professionalism was always key. “For the opening we invited famous ex-footballers such as Ruud Gullit, Pierre van Hooijdonk, Aron Winter and Jean-Marie Pfaff,” notes Offringa. “And it was an instant hit. News of the beautifully renovated court spread quickly throughout the city. From far and wide, children and grown-ups came to play football there. Isn't that wonderful? I think we can be proud of this.”
A Cruyff Court is not just a miniature football pitch. It also brings children into contact with other projects. One example is the Fair Play Ticket project, which gives underprivileged children an opportunity to attend a real football match. Two youngsters, Samuel and Jaci, both 13 years old, were given the chance to see the semi-final between the Netherlands and Argentina, from one of the best seats in the Itaquerão stadium.
They could hardly believe what was happening to them. They will remember the experience forever. And, more importantly, it shows children (growing up in an environment of drugs and crime) that working hard and staying on the right track can result in a bright future.
Perhaps one day these new champions from Ermelino Matarazzo will help to make Brazil world champions again.