Ninety minutes can make a world of difference. Soccer is the universal language. The pitch provides a common ground for integration. The teams are united in friendship. And the ultimate goal is a brighter hope for a peaceful future. Since 1975 Sweden has played host to Gothia Cup, the world’s biggest international youth tournament.
In 2004, Gothia Cup, the world’s largest and most international youth tournament, boasted no less than 1510 registered squads for its 30th jubilee tournament. © Photo: Gothia Cup
For one week only, scores of youngsters from all over the world descend on Gothenburg, in western Sweden. For one week only, 4,000 fixtures are won, lost or drawn. For one week only, memories are made to last a lifetime. The third week of July has indeed become a colourful and cultural spectacle for this Swedish city.
Gothia Cup was born in an era when the flare of the game was fast becoming as entertaining as the fashions. In 1975, young Swedish sports-leaders realised their dream of staging a unique event in their home city. From its grass roots, Gothia Cup has now blossomed into a soccer extravaganza and worthy charitable concern.
Meeting place for the world's youth
Although a sizable number of teams – 275 – gathered for the first experiment, Gothia Cup boasted 1510 registered squads for its 30th jubilee tournament in 2004. Despite the tournament's growth in size and stature, its goal remains the same; to provide a meeting place for the world’s youth, bringing different cultures and religions together in harmony, kinship and understanding.
Young soccer players from all over the world take part in the opening ceremony attended by some 40,000 spectators. © Photo: Gothia Cup
“Soccer unites people,” says Gothia Cup general secretary Dennis Andersson. “We have Protestants and Catholics from Northern Ireland; we have youngsters from the USA and Iraq, from Israel and Palestine. It’s a chance to learn from each other, and often it’s a real eye-opener for many young people.”
In its time, 121 countries have been represented and more than half a million young people have participated. Gothia Cup is open to both boys and girls between 11 and 19 years of age, and a warm welcome is extended to all. Although the majority of teams travel from Scandinavia and the rest of Europe, 61 countries joined together for the 2004 event. The newest recruits were teams from Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Tunisia.
Gothia Cup promotes respect and honesty, on and off the ground. Every match should be exciting, challenging and an everlasting memory, regardless of the score. © Photo: Gothia Cup
Soccer as a national pride
Soccer in Sweden often has to compete with ice hockey for the title of the country’s national sport. However, triumphs in turning home-grown talent into superstar exports on the men’s circuit and silver-medal success for the women’s national team in the 1993 World Cup maintain the country’s spirited passion for the game.
With the sport’s unique and universal ability to stir the emotions of national pride, the will to win is more often than not the name of the game. At Gothia Cup it is no different; alongside the tournament’s fundamental ethics, soccer remains high on the agenda.
“It is a competition”, says Dennis Andersson. “As the importance of Gothia Cup has grown, the importance of winning has also grown. If you are into sport, you are there to win.”
The first Gothia Cup was played in 1975 with 275 teams only which now have grown to 1,500 teams. 120 countries have been represented and more than 500,000 persons have participated. © Photo: Gothia Cup
More than just the game
Aside from the showcase of soccer skills on the pitch, there’s a hive of activity buzzing around the city during Gothia Cup week. Between matches, team coaches can take respite with their counterparts, exchanging ideas and benefiting from one of the many seminars on offer.
Meanwhile, after a quick kit change, the players are often found enjoying the hair-raising rides and attractions at Liseberg, the largest amusement park in Northern Europe.
The city’s residents take pride in giving a special welcome to their overseas guests, says Dennis Andersson. He adds: “The people of Gothenburg are our most valuable asset. They have taken Gothia Cup to their hearts.”
Indeed they join the party, cheer on the teams and make up part of the 40,000 spectators at Gothia Cup’s opening ceremony; a fiesta with all the pomp you would find on the world’s finest soccer stage.
And when the celebrations draw to a close, Gothia Cup turns its attention to missionary work abroad. The opening of two soccer schools in the African country of Burkina Faso has given proper facilities and educational opportunities to neighbourhoods where soccer rules and poverty reigns. Additionally, Gothia Cup’s aid work continues to grow with the support of the Swedish Church Mission.
Gothia Cup has enjoyed many memorable moments to date and the final whistle has yet to be blown on its success. In 2001, sponsorship enabled a team from one of the soccer schools in Burkina Faso to take part. Similarly, in 2004 the tournament welcomed a team of youngsters from a refugee camp in northern Uganda, many of whom have lost their families during turbulent civil unrest.
It is moments like these that can make the world of difference. It is moments like these that have become Gothia Cup’s finest hour, and thirty minutes.
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Christine Demsteader is an English journalist based in Stockholm. Living in Sweden since 2002, she combines freelance writing with radio production.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
This article was previously published 25 June 2004 on www.sweden.se.
All photos: Gothia Cup, www.gothiacup.se
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