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Special Project 15:15 27 Oct 2021

Veterans of Ukrainian football and diplomacy: how sport helps the image of Ukraine

The legendary Ukrainian football players played a match with the representatives of the United Arab Emirates; the game took place on October 25 at the residence of the UAE Ambassador to Ukraine Salem Ahmed Al-Kaabi. This event opened the celebration of the 50th anniversary of UAE Independence.

Football is about equality, chances for all, and also the community. This message is broadcast, in particular, by the Union of European Football Association (UEFA), emphasizing the potential of children: everyone deserves to be noticed. For children, this sport opens the world to them.

But this game is not only for the young. Although the retirement age of an average player is 40, with each birthday, the love for the game doesn't subside; the desire to score the next goal remains just as strong, and each match is charged with no less energy.

Ветерани українського футболу та дипломатія: як спорт допомагає іміджу України

Football is something that unites millions of people around the world beyond age and nationality. It was proved in Kyiv on October 25 by Ukrainian football veterans and their peers from the United Arab Emirates. Together they played a futsal match and opened the celebration of the 50th anniversary of UAE Independence in Ukraine, which is celebrated on December 2 this year.

"Now our country is 50 years old. We're starting to celebrate this date all over the world 50 days before Independence Day; the government and embassies are preparing events. The game was organized by the UAE Embassy with the help of Hennadii Butkevych," the UAE ambassador to Ukraine Salem Ahmed Al-Kaabi told Rubryka.

Ветерани українського футболу та дипломатія: як спорт допомагає іміджу України

The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary himself was among the players on the field. Rubryka explains how it happened, and why it was decided to celebrate one of the most important holidays in the UAE with a football game in Ukraine.

Ветерани українського футболу та дипломатія: як спорт допомагає іміджу України

Mykhailychenko and Vashchuk: how footballers develop diplomacy

"Oldies but goodies" was the slogan of the match, as all the players on the futsal field were over 45 years old. Most footballers "hang the boots up" at the age of 40, or even earlier, but in retirement, football veterans don't lose the love of the game and perseverance. "All goals are important for a football player, whether he's a player or a veteran; they experience the same emotions, and these feelings are important," Oleksii Mykhailychenko, the captain of the Ukrainian team, shared with Rubrika.

Ветерани українського футболу та дипломатія: як спорт допомагає іміджу України

Futsal is an indoor game where teams play six to six players against each other. The first half of the friendly match was played in the national teams (Ukrainians then led 4:1), and in the second half, the players decided to unite in mixed teams and finished the game with a score of 4:4. Despite the different languages ​​of the players, Arabic and Ukrainian, nothing was "lost in translation"; the teams played in unison because football is a game that unites the world.

"The Ambassador offered to play — he loves football and often comes to support the Zhytomyr 'Polissia' football club. Today almost all Ukrainian teams are represented here," said the co-organizer of the match, Hennadii Butkevych, owner of BGV Group Management and co-owner of ATB Corporation, who also acted as the head coach of the Ukrainian team in this match and helped gather the legendary players of Ukraine for the game.

UAE Ambassador Salem Ahmed Al-Kaabi stressed that football was a great game to strengthen friendships because football is played all over the world. That is why one of the first events on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the UAE Independence was this football match:

"The climate in the UAE is too hot, so people didn't play sports very often before. But now that's changing. There are more opportunities to play sports in cool places, and the country supports it," said Salem Ahmed Al-Kaabi.

Ветерани українського футболу та дипломатія: як спорт допомагає іміджу України

The captain of the Ukrainian team Oleksii Mykhailychenko agreed with him:

"Our veteran team is always ready to play in such friendly matches. Football is a very popular game all over the world. It is played everywhere. It is important to understand: many of our players may not know English, and many of the veteran players, our friends, and partners don't know the Ukrainian language. But we understand each other on the court, we talk and play in the same team," the footballer emphasized.

Ветерани українського футболу та дипломатія: як спорт допомагає іміджу України

Oleksii Mykhailychenko, a former player of Dynamo Kyiv and the Italian club Sampdoria, as well as a former coach of Dynamo Kyiv and the national team of Ukraine, is not the only star to return to the field for a friendly match. Among the Ukrainians were also, for example, Vladyslav Vashchuk, a former player of "Dynamo Kyiv" and the National Team of Ukraine. Serhii Shyshchenko, Serhii Nahorniak, Mykola Zbarakh, Vitalii Samoilov, and others also played on the side of the Ukrainians. The match was refereed by UEFA international referee Serhii Zadyran. And the captain of the UAE team was a star player of the 1980s from the Emirates, Salem Khalifa Al-Shamsi.

Ветерани українського футболу та дипломатія: як спорт допомагає іміджу України

"The match turned out great and very friendly. Such events are important for international relations, and football is a game that unites people of all ages and nationalities," the UAE captain shared his emotions after the match.

What does football support give?

Supporting football is a contribution not only to the development of sports and improving people's health, but also a great tool for the development of both local communities and international connections. More than once in the international arena, sports, and in particular football competitions and friendly matches have played a catalytic role in the development of interstate relations. A friendly match between football veterans of Ukraine and the UAE showed that, indeed, football unites and strengthens friendly ties; it's a kind of informal diplomacy.

Ветерани українського футболу та дипломатія: як спорт допомагає іміджу України

"The game was held in a friendly atmosphere. The most important thing was real emotions, both teams represented Ukraine and the Emirates with dignity," Valerii Platonov, vice-president of FC Polissia, who also took part in the match, told Rubryka. "We've been invited to the UAE, and we plan to play the same match in Dubai."

Ветерани українського футболу та дипломатія: як спорт допомагає іміджу України

"I know many people for whom football is very important. Maybe not all of them played big football, but from childhood they played, then worked somewhere, and always played football. For them, football is a way of life," Oleksii Mykhailychenko concluded.

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