Over the past six months, 100 teams comprising 1,300 boys and girls have participated in the AIA-ISF Youth League 2017/2018, which culminated today in the closing ceremony at the Indochina Starfish Foundation (“ISF”) Sports Ground. The loud, cheering crowd during the final matches was indicative of how the positive impact of this extraordinary football league on the players, who comprise some of the most marginalised children in the country, and their families is filling the spectators’ hearts with joy and hope for a healthier Cambodia.
Opportunities to engage in competitive football and access to grounds are limited for most Cambodian children, especially underprivileged kids. Typically, girls have less access than boys, and access for disabled children is almost non-existent. Understanding this, ISF, through the football league under a long-term exclusive sponsorship from AIA (Cambodia) Life Insurance Plc (“AIA Cambodia”), has been offering boys and girls from all backgrounds and players with physical and intellectual disabilities rare opportunities to play football and be physically active. The numerous positive impacts of the league can been seen on the fields and far beyond—not only for the young participants but also for their households, ISF coaches and staff, and their communities as a whole.
The annual AIA-ISF Youth League provides coaching and tournaments to six divisions of girls and boys in under-10, under-14 and under-18 age groups, including deaf and hearing-impaired players. For these children, the league offered a chance to develop skills, such as teamwork, leadership, decision-making and resilience; all of which are transferrable to their studies and daily lives. Also, the weekly matches are widely attended by many community members; and since the programme’s start, the amount of females has increased nearly threefold and the number of girl teams has more than doubled. This is a big shift in football’s role for women and society. In addition, because of AIA, the coaches at ISF have also received direct training from elite coaches of the UK-based Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (“Spurs”), of which AIA is the Global Principal Partner. All of this, combined with the fact that some players travel up to three hours each week to compete in matches, demonstrates both the enthusiasm and the need for the league and hence, AIA’s bespoke support.
Speaking at the league’s closing, Richard Bates, CEO of AIA Cambodia, said, “We know that many Cambodians love football. We are proud to partner with ISF to help make a positive difference to people’s lives through football because AIA is here to help people live healthier, longer and better lives.” Emphasizing the sustainability of this league, Mr. Bates added, “We want to make a long-term impact, and we are doing it together with our many partners. That’s why we bring our friends from Tottenham Hotspur here to train the ISF coaches so that they can help more children in the years to come.”
“We appreciate being part of AIA and ISF’s effort to help Cambodian people benefit from football in the long-run,” said Spurs coach Anton Blackwood after sharing healthy living tips with the participating children. He continued, “The passion for football and the skills that many underprivileged children and ISF coaches developed and improved on through the league and through our involvement will go a long way in their lives”.
Chourp Vicheka, the Country Manager of ISF applauded this, saying, “Partnering with the insurance giant AIA, which is immensely resourceful and firmly committed to healthy living, has enabled us to not only offer kids a healthier life through the AIA-ISF Youth League but also to enhance its quality and sustainability. On behalf of everyone at ISF and the thousands of beneficiaries of this football league, we thank AIA and its partner Spurs for their continuous and multifaceted support.”
AIA-ISF Youth League 2017/2018 ran from 26 November 2017 until 27 May 2018. It was held at the ISF Sports Ground in Preah Theat Village, Phnom Penh. Click here for the results. The next season will start in December 2018.