PHNOM PENH: For every World Cup since 2002, there has been a ball traveling the world to reach the event, always starting its journey in Battersea Park, London, where the first modern rules soccer game was played in 1864. Simply referred to as “The Ball”, it is a fitting counterpart to the Olympic Torch, which also travels the world to promote cooperation and sports diplomacy among participating countries. Unlike the Torch, The Ball invites people to sign it. So far, more than 55,000 people in 55 countries have signed The Ball. This year The Ball’s creator, the NGO Spirit of Football, is asking for the signatures of those committed to protecting the environment and gender equality.
The Ball is currently passing through Southeast Asia on its trip to Auckland, New Zealand where it will inaugurate the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023. Phnom Penh had the honor of hosting the ball 23-25 March 2023, during which Spirit of Football conducted a two-day workshop on education methods and sustainability. During its visit, US Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy signed The Ball as a gesture of his country’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis. According to a press release from the US Embassy, “In the Kingdom, U.S. sports diplomacy programming has strengthened people-to-people ties between Cambodian and Cambodian-American athletes; enhanced the personal and professional development of youth and adults in rural Cambodia; and championed key global issues including climate change and gender equality.”
Also host to The Ball during its journey through Phnom Penh was the NGO Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF), which provides soccer opportunities to some of Cambodia’s most disenfranchised youth along with the help of the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC). The ISF also works to eliminate poverty through education and community development efforts.
The Ball then went to Battambang and Siem Reap, after which it crossed the border into Thailand. It will pass through Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia through May. It will then stop at island nations in the South Pacific before finally arriving in New Zealand for the start of the World Cup on 20 July. While on tour, as many people as possible are encouraged to play with and sign The Ball in the hope that it will carry with it the aspirations of fair play, climate action and gender equality along the way.