Members of Qatar’s U-20 national football team touched down in New Zealand recently to compete in the FIFA U-20 World Cup. It’s the first time that Qatar has been a part of the FIFA U-20 World Cup for 20 years, and the team made the most of enjoying New Zealand by engaging with the local Waikato community.

On Saturday 30th May, the team held an event at YMCA Hamilton with children selected by Variety – The Children’s Charity through their relationships with Stand Children’s Services and The Salvation Army. With a miniature penalty shoot-out and other games, including juggling volleys and traditional soccer played in big bubble suits, it was an incredible day of fun and football.

Young members of the YMCA community were also invited to participate and YMCA Hamilton kindly gifted use of the stadium to the team for free. “We’re always open to helping with things that benefit the local community, especially when it involves getting kids active,” explains Graeme Mead, Centre Manager. “We liked what the Qatar team have been doing here, so we were happy to help.”

The Qatar team reciprocated by hosting kids from YMCA Hamilton’s OSCAR programme to the team’s second World Cup game on 3rd June, an action-packed match against Portugal at Waikato Stadium. “YMCA sponsors the after school programme at Melville – providing care, food and support to the kids there. This costs us close to $25,000 a year, for which we receive no funding, so any help that we can get to provide these kids with a great experience is welcome. We’re grateful to the Qatar team for their generosity in arranging this outing for us,” says Graeme.

36 children, aged five to eleven, from both Melville Primary and Hamilton West School, along with seven staff were transported to the game, where they were provided with refreshments and kitted out in a full supporters pack. For these little fans, it was a very special afternoon. 

Gene Lentfer, Outreach Officer from YMCA Hamilton said “the kid’s lives were changed today. I have already had children get home and tell their parents that they want to play the sport.”  Five year old Katelyn Fisher also added, “it was so cool seeing our friends play down there, and the food was really yum.”

Earlier in May, the team took time out from their practice matches and extensive training regime, to engage with local schools and spend a morning at Waikato Hospital, where they were adopted by WaiKids in a symbolic act of friendship between the two organisations. “It’s important for us to give back to our host country and put smiles on the faces of people in the community,” says Ali Salem Afifa from Qatar.

The YMCA community were thrilled to be involved with a team whose values so closely mirror our own.