All eyes on the ball on the former frontline

The atmosphere in the stadium is tense; the crowd waiting for the referee’s whistle that will kick-off the final. Spectators waving Red Crescent flags and national flags watch the players in Red Crescent shirts on the pitch, all eyes on the ball. With elimination matches over, the last teams standing want to take the cup and go back to school in two days time as champions of the Red Crescent football tournament.

All teams are from Gazakh district in Azerbaijan, near the border with Armenia. The tournament is part of a project called ‘Safer Playgrounds’ which is being organised by the Azerbaijan Red Crescent and the UK based TAG International Development organisation. Activities are focused in districts bordering the disputed Nagorniy Garabakh as well as districts bordering Armenia.

The villages in Gazakh saw a lot of fighting before the ceasefire was reached, and the communities still struggle with the remnants of war, such as landmines and other explosives.

Today’s football tournament is a continuation of a project launched in 2005. The project also includes social support to families who have lost the head of family due to landmines, as well as collecting information on mine victims and handing these over to the relevant government agency.

The monthly football competition is organized in accordance with all international football standards and rules, and first aiders from the Azerbaijan Red Crescent have provided training to all the teenage players. This project will give the teenagers an opportunity to spend their summer holidays meaningfully, increasing their interest in sport, learning first aid skills and knowledge and – vitally – raising awareness the the risks of mines and unexploded ordnance.

The young players of Khanliglar village take the main prize after scoring two magnificent goals, but all teams are honoured for their participation and there more prizes than just the Winner’s Cup. Not least a break from normal routine, an exciting holiday event and, for the Red Crescent, a platform to continue work with teenagers in the area.