One-sided football game highlights climate change and global inequalities
The game became a metaphor for the inequalities in the world, caused by climate change. Photo / Danielle Zollickhofer A football match in Hamilton this week between two girls' high school teams became a terrible, one-sided disaster despite being organised as part of the Spirit of Football project as a lead-up to the FIFA Women's World Cup games in New Zealand next year. One team was purposely disadvantaged almost from kick-off. The width of their goal suddenly shrank, while that of the other team grew larger. Plastic rubbish was strewn around their half to impede players, and just when they thought they might make progress, their best players were taken off and replaced by some city councillors who had never played before - Anna Casey-Cox and Sarah Thomson. What the Hamilton Girls High Year 9 to 13 students didn't know - but soon came to realise - was that they had been set up, with the game deliberately skewed to highlight the inequalities caused by climate change. At first glance, football and climate change may not have a lot in common, but global non-profit organisation Spirit of Football links the two to get young people to take specific action to make the world a better place. "The game is colossally unfair and ends up being a metaphor of what happens in a global environment in terms of climate change," says the director of educational programmes with Hamilton-based community education organisation EarthDiverse, Nona Morris. Spirit of Football partnered with EarthDiverse to set up the match at Innes Common on Tuesday, the first of at least 30 such matches which are set to take place around New Zealand as a lead-up to the FIFA Women's World Cup in July. Since 2002, the Spirit of Football project has taken place in every country participating in the FIFA World Cup. Morris says: "We use this [football game] as an opportunity to teach them about the inequities of climate change... and the pressure lots of countries are feeling. "Let's take the South Pacific islands... they produce the least amount of emissions, but they are the ones affected the most." Throughout the game, the clueless girls got increasingly frustrated. Cries like: "Why is there rubbish on the field?" or "You can't make their goal bigger!" could be heard. The final score was 12-1. Student Isabella Shanks was on the winning team. "It was fun, but it was not that much of a win, because it wasn't really a fair game. "When I first came here today, I thought we were just gonna play a game of football. But we worked out what it was really about during the game," she says. Fellow student Ilaria Pace jokes: "I just thought we were gonna get free pizza". The game was a family affair for Casey-Cox since her husband Tim Cox coaches the Girls High 1st XI team and their daughters Emily and Maddy Cox also took part in the game. Emily was a player for the disadvantaged team and said the game was really unfair. "I was getting very frustrated and definitely suggested protesting a couple of times, like lying down in the other team's goal. But it didn't really work." After the game, the girls participated in a workshop about climate action, gender inequality and fair play. As part of the workshop, every participant made a pledge about how they want to take action against climate change, like going plastic-free or using alternative transport more often. Casey-Cox says her pledge was going vegan twice a week. She says she believes in the football initiative and in taking climate action. "I believe in getting young people on a journey to collectively and individually take climate action." The FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 draw last weekend shows which teams will be coming to play in Hamilton next year: Sweden, Norway, Argentina, Zambia, Vietnam, Japan, Switzerland and Costa Rica. Zambia will play Japan on July 22, Switzerland will play Norway on July 25, the qualifier will play Vietnam on July 27, Costa Rica will play Zambia on July 31 and Argentina will play Sweden on August 2. Waikato Stadium will host all five matches. Before hosting the five group games, Hamilton will also host the inaugural play-off tournament from February 17 to 23, this will see 10 teams from across the world compete for the final three qualifying spots. For the playoffs, Hamilton will welcome Cameroon, Thailand, Portugal, Chinese Taipei and Paraguay, as well as some countries that will be determined from the outcomes of early matches. A spectacular airshow will dominate the skies above Mercury Bay over Labour Weekend.