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At the end of the Gazprom Football for Friendship (F4F) 2017 International Championship here on Saturday, a poignant moment captured the essence of what the competition was about.

Alexandr Kerzhakov, one of Russia’s best-ever players, its record goal-scorer and a local hero as he plays for Zenit St. Petersburg, was the guest of honour. But the privilege of handing out the medals to the victorious team was instead the vanquished side’s captain’s.

The Gazprom F4F project, which is into its fifth year, is aimed at fostering such respect, friendship, equality, fairness and other values towards different cultures and ethnicities from across the world. In the 2017 edition, the number of participating countries had doubled from 32 to 64 and with it India too made its debut. Kids aged 12 to 14, chosen from across the world, were divided into eight international ‘Friendship Teams,” which played a knock-out tournament to decide the winner. In a warm coincidence of sorts, the team which included 12-year-old Sujal Kahar from Mumbai, also featured Yousuf Moazzam from Pakistan.

For Sujal, who is from an underprivileged family and attends a tuition-free government school, MCGM Saibabapath MPS supported by Educo, it was an experience like none other. A goal-keeper, he was shortlisted as the F4F Young Ambassador from a bunch of 2500 kids.

“My best friends are Viktor from Iceland and Jaka from Slovenia,” Sujal said. “We discussed everything about how to play and all. More than that I enjoyed my time here. It was great and I’ll try and remain in touch with the friends I made here.”

It was no different for Ananya Kamboj, an 8th standard student from Vivek High School, Mohali, and part of the young journalists team, which covered all key events on equal terms with the adult reporters. Ananya was shortlisted as the F4F Young Journalist from India following a writing contest in which she wrote on the role of football in ‘enabling conversations’,’ which could help foster engagement between countries and their people.

“My best experience here was interviewing all the players and writing about them,” Ananya said. “And I made friends with journalists from close to 60 of the 64 countries. I may not remember all their names, but I know most of them.”

The writer is in St. Petersburg at the invitation of Football for Friendship.

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