Focus/Spotlight

Football Friday: Building an active nation  

A year has passed since the first Covid-19 outbreak, and while the pandemic still remains active, so too are the mental and physical impacts it has had on Sri Lankan citizens. Seeing this, the Government initiated a new sports programme at the beginning of 2021 to strengthen the public’s mental and physical health through football. 

Named Football Friday, the initiative was developed by the Ministry of Sports under the guidance of Minister of Youth and Sports Namal Rajapaksa and Jaswar Umar, a consultant of Football Friday under CPSM, a Sri Lankan sports management company.  

“We are making an active nation and healthy lifestyle for all age groups of people through Football Friday,” said Rajapaksa when commenting on the benefits that the project would provide to the country.

The initiative was launched to address the impact Covid has had on the mental and physical wellbeing of the local communities. Due to the usual outlets for stress relief being unavailable or unsafe, such as going to the cinema or to local restaurants, people are left to dwell in a negative state of mind, or in worse cases, spiral into adopting unhealthy habits that are harmful to their mental and physical health, as well as that of those around them.

Seeing that it is psychologically proven that sports assist the improvement of both physical and mental health, the Ministry decided that investing in such activities would be the first step towards equipping the local community with the means to heal. 

Held every Friday, Football Friday currently takes place at the Racecourse Grounds in Colombo, giving the community a new outlet at the end of each week. The entire event also abides by the Covid health guidelines set out by the health authorities. 

According to the Media Centre for National Development, outside of attracting football players from around the country, the event was also able to bring in spectators of all sorts, creating a myriad of backgrounds with a multi-ethnic, multi-religious crowd of people coming together in the name of sport. 

It further stated that being free of charge for the players and spectators, the event encourages anyone and everyone to attend, and gives each person the chance to play football on a professional field – which is not one that is usually available to a majority of the country. 

“The sport is already widely loved with over four billion followers in the world and a significant fanbase in Sri Lanka itself. Although the usual elements of age, race, gender, and more are used to divide communities, sports allow them to be the factors that bring people together – uniting them in the face of their differences through healthy competition.” 

Football Friday even held a special event during the week of Women’s Day, calling all women’s teams to come and play in one of their three fields – acknowledging and encouraging their impact in sports. This special event was graced by women’s teams, spectators and, Chief guest and Olympian Sriyani Kulawansa. 

According to the Media Centre, so far, the Football Fridays have been a great success, seeing that each one brought in large crowds. Due to this, they explained that the Ministry of Sports and CPSM now have plans of branching out to other parts of the country.  

By decentralising the sport, the event is allowed a higher reach to assist more people in their journey towards developing their mental and physical wellbeing, and makes football more accessible to each person who wants to play it, regardless of where they might be.  

“We have transformed football into a tool that brings friends and family together at one location weekly – a dinner outing that allows them to spend quality time with each other and build relationships over fun, food, and football,” said Umar. 

While the initiative’s main focus is on paving the way towards Sri Lanka’s healing after facing the difficulties of the pandemic, it simultaneously looks at the development of the country’s football as an added benefit. They stated that through the foundation of building football up as a recreational activity, the country is allowed to progress into making opportunities for it as a professional sport. 

“Seeing that there are many players in the country who have the talent and passion but not the facilities, an event like Football Friday takes them off the battered grounds they are used to playing on, and puts them on a proper field with the equipment they need. In addition to that, it gives them a guaranteed game to go to, and brings in like-minded players from across the country to one place allowing them to always have a when, where, and who for a match each week.” 

 

(This article was authored in collaboration with the Media Centre for National Development)