ASUNCION (Reuters) - Imagine a soccer championship without referees where goals are celebrated by both teams and winning is less important than respect for your opponents.
This philosophy is preached by the organizers of the second South American Street Football Meeting in the Paraguayan capital, which ended on Saturday.
The event, held on one of the main avenues of Asuncion, brought together 180 young people aged up to 22 from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru plus guest teams from Germany and South Africa.
“The idea basically is to generate change through football,” said Vladimir Borkovic, a member of streetfootballworld, a Berlin-based organization that promotes the event.
“Football is the means, the tool to promote development, citizen participation and the integration of young people,” he told Reuters.
The matches, which last for two halves of seven minutes each, follow a special ritual. Before each match the players, five per team who must include at least one woman, discuss what rules should apply.
At the end of the game, they all meet again to reflect on the action and, with the help of a mediator, give points to the teams for the different aspects of their performance.
“Do you think the players abided by the rules?,” “How do Peru think that Brazil played?,” “Did the girls feel okay?” were some of the questions asked by one of the mediators after a match. Teams get extra points for the goals they score.
The Peruvian team included a budding actor and a female design student and were captained by Juan Carlos Cotrina, a 22-year-old accountant.
“Here we meet, exchange experiences and learn things we can develop in any field (of life). I think that’s what’s important,” said 20-year-old Evelyn Garcia, one of three women playing for Peru.
“And we’re giving an example of the place women should occupy (in society),” she added.
“In this kind of football you feel valued, respected,” said Carola Martinez, a chatty Argentine 21-year-old who did not hesitate to reproach a team mate for a rough challenge during Argentina’s match against Chile.
“In traditional football there is a lot of violence but here things are different because we make the rules, we respect each other and we celebrate together,” said Julio, a 17-year-old Argentine who is a fan of regular soccer.
The tournament ended with Bolivia beating Argentina 5-3 in the final and winning a trophy presented by Nicolas Leoz, president of the South American Football Confederation (CSF).
The first South American Street Football Meeting was held in Buenos Aires in 2005 and Chile will host the next towards the end of 2008, with Bolivia taking a turn the following year.
Editing by Rex Gowar