RIO DE JANEIRO — You probably haven’t heard of Zimdonesialand. It only has a population of about 30, all teenage girls, but it has a banner and a name, and has quickly become the talk of the Street Child World Cup (SCWC).
The phenomenon that is Zimdonesialand started during the Zimbabwe -Indonesia game at the Lonier Maracana. Zimbabwe were comfortably winning, 6-0 up in fact.
But when they scored their seventh goal something strange happened. The Zimbabwe girls started celebrating in a typically exuberant fashion, running to the side of a pitch for a team dance. Except this time they were joined by their opponents, who were joyfully celebrating the Zimbabwean goal.
Then Indonesia scored, and everyone went wild. The Indonesia and Zimbabwe players were hugging each other, dancing together and cheering to the crowd, who were cheering right back. These scenes continued for the rest of the match, which ended 8-2, and carried on after the final whistle.
Tom Messenger, Volunteer pitch manager at Street Child World Cup, said it is an experience he will never forget:
“Indonesia have played the entire tournament with smiles on their faces. The crowd was quite big for that game, so there was a really great atmosphere and a lot of energy, and the teams celebrating together was a really heartwarming moment. At the end of the game all the players were hugging and dancing, giving each other piggybacks and having a water fight. I’ve never seen two teams celebrate so much that you can’t even tell who won.”
The next day when Zimbabwe took the field to play Brazil, the Indonesia squad were there with a banner: “Zimdonesia”. Since then the England girls team have joined after bonding during a conference session and the three teams’ bond has become a byword for the cultural exchange and friendship that SCWC stands for.
Sicelo, who plays for Zimbabwe, explained that the teams have been bonding throughout the tournament:
“When we first got here Indonesia greeted us and when the games started we supported each other. We’ve been teaching each other our languages, but we mainly speak with sign language. We wanted the Indonesia girls to feel at home as our friends when we played them, so we celebrated their goal.”
The story has been similar among all the squads in Rio, even defying popular perceptions. When India and Pakistan were drawn to play each other in the group phase, everyone knew it was a unique chance to promote tolerance and understanding.
Syed Itfan Maqbool, Azad Foundation director, said the India and Pakistan squads were eager to meet each other: “They understand it is just a game. The two squads are friends not rivals. The teams are sharing the same dorm as friends, so they share everything. In Vidigal the players were dancing together, singing songs and ate lunch together. It is a start for a friendly future.
“Both squads have the responsibility to try and change the perception of the two countries as rivals. The two projects are similar, and face similar problems, so we have enjoyed working together.”
Paul Sunder Singh, secretary at Karunalaya, thinks it is natural that the teams are getting on: “Before we went to the pitch we said to both teams it was a friendship match. The two teams are not rivals, children don’t have rivals only adults have rivals.”
Kannadoss, the India captain, says his team have been making friends with all the other squads: “We’ve been getting on with all the teams. We’ve been telling them about India and they’ve been telling us about their countries.”
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. In the first days of the SCWC there was a noticeable tension between the Brazil and Argentina boys’ squads, two countries with famous footballing histories and a long-standing and much hyped football rivalry.