Historic Soccer Match Between Former Gang Members and Government Officials
December 15, 2009
A crowd of 10,000 turned out to cheer as 15 former gang members spilled out onto Guatemala’s Mateo Flores National Stadium to face a team of government officials including the Chief of Police, the Minister of Culture, the Presidential Sports Commissioner, police officers, firemen, and two Armed Forces Generals in an historic soccer match. The event kicked off a multi-faceted “90 Minutes Against Violence” campaign ultimately aimed at engaging Guatemalan youth in making specific recommendations for reducing violent crime.
“The former gang members beamed with pride as they came out of the locker room onto the field, while the Guatemalan anthem played,” said Harold Sibaja, Director of the Youth Challenge Program. The Program has supported the creation of the Youth Movement Against Crime, which is responsible for the Campaign. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and implemented by Creative Associates International, Inc., the Youth Challenge Program has been designing unique interventions for youth-at-risk since 2003.
The “90 Minutes Against Violence” match included three games of 20 minutes each (Former Gang Members vs. Government Officials, Private Sector vs. Politicians and Diplomats, and Artists and Faith Based Organizations vs. Professional Soccer Players). The match’s last 30 minutes was played among the best players of the three first games. Although the first game’s ending score was 0-0, the crowd was equally delighted with the three subsequent matches. Theatrics helped to drive home the Campaign’s message. In the last match, players purposely broke game rules sending the ball to the wrong goal post and other antics, causing an outcry from fans. The interlude reinforced that without concern for rules, chaos reigns making all equally losers.
The games drew national coverage, focusing attention on the sobering fact that there is a murder every 90 minutes in Guatemala. The country’s homicide rate has soared from 26 per 100,000 inhabitants at the end of the country’s protracted conflict in 1996 to 46 per 100,000 today. The U.S. national murder rate, by comparison, stands at 5.6 per 100,000.
The Youth Movement’s “90 Minutes Against Violence” is reaching beyond traditional media outlets to speak directly to Guatemalan youth who are disproportionately both the victims and perpetrators of violent crime. “Every goal scored in this game symbolized a collective point scored for Guatemala against violence,” said Sibaja who leads Creative Associates’ Youth-at-Risk initiatives in Guatemala and the Latin American region. “With examples such as former gang members and police officers playing side by side, the message of the game was clear — Guatemalans united from every walk of life can combat violence and do not have to accept living with insecurity as the norm.”
With government, private sector leaders and ordinary Guatemalans now speaking up and reinvesting in their communities, “90 Minutes” is not limiting itself to a soccer stadium. The Youth Movement Against Violence organized by USAID’s Youth Challenge Program has literally taken the campaign on the road. Starting October 17th, every weekend for four weeks a bus has traveled through Guatemala City’s most dangerous neighborhoods, including “El Mezquital” where several police officers were recently killed by gang members. Members of the Congress of the Republic, celebrity professional athletes and business leaders aboard the bus are carrying out a “Dignified Life for Youth” campaign to reinforce the anti-violence message.
“Another activity planned countrywide for this campaign is ‘90 Dialogues Against Violence’ to get Guatemalan youth to reflect on violence and to propose solutions to decrease criminal activity,” Sibaja added. “Through these dialogues, we hope to study the cause of juvenile violence using principles — diversity, creativity, compromise, tolerance, unity, active listening — to initiate discussions and impart knowledge. Ultimately, the dialogues will achieve a multiplier effect by having participants impart lessons learned to their peers.”
The Youth Movement’s campaign is also planning a major concert to bring young Guatemalans together with the unifying appeal of popular music. The campaign’s goal is to support the draft of a policy paper that incorporates feedback from youth and all sectors of society. The Coalition for a Dignified Youth created under the Youth Challenge Program is using the proposals generated by youth to develop recommendations for a crime prevention public policy paper. The Campaign is a tangible way for young people to make their voices heard on the problems faced by disenfranchised youth in the hope of bringing them into the mainstream to end the cycle of violence in Guatemala.