The tradition has been present at every World Cup since 2002.
WASHINGTON – When Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo and all soccer players step onto the World Cup pitch just before a game, they do so hand in hand with children – an enduring tradition since the early 2000s.
For almost 20 years, children have been entering World Cup stadiums with the world’s best soccer players. Since 2002, all World Cups have featured children, or “player companions” as they are commonly known, generally between the ages of 6 and 10, alongside the best professional footballers.
UNICEF and FIFA have teamed up for the 2002 World Cup to “promote and protect the right of all children to a healthy rest and quality primary education,” according to UNICEF’s official press release. That “Say yes for children” campaign. gave children a starring role on the World Cup stage by escorting every player onto the field.
Symbolically, the children on the pitch “remind football fans that they have an important role to play in building a child-friendly world,” according to the 2002 publication.
McDonald’s, a long-time corporate sponsor of the FIFA World Cup, has been promoting the mascot program since 2002. The company has held a sweepstakes in the past from which one could vote 1,400 children from all over the world for the opportunity to step onto the pitch hand-in-hand with the players.
“McDonald’s is committed to the well-being of children and to providing unique experiences for our customers everywhere,” he said Johan Jervoe, Vice President Marketing for McDonald’s Germany in 2006. “The Player Escort Program is one of McDonald’s most successful sports programs since it launched at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan.”
However, McDonald’s is not the only sponsor behind the player escort program and has not sponsored it for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
For the coming FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in New Zealand and Australia, CommBank launches a player support program in which 1,500 children between the ages of 6 and 10 take part to accompany the players onto the field.
For events outside of the World Cup, other corporate sponsors have taken responsibility for the tradition of player support. In 2019, Visa sponsored the program for the Total Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
While it has been a World Cup feature for decades, the tradition for club teams goes back even further. Wayne Rooney, who was a star for England national team and Manchester United and now coaches DC United, took part in this tradition as a child. A Photo published in the Liverpool Echo of 1996 revealed an 11-year-old Rooney as one of two “kid mascots” who accompany players on the field.
Outside of the World Cup, becoming a child mascot can be as easy as paying the right price. A 2014 investigation by The Guardian noted that Premier League clubs were charging up to £450 (about US$550) for children to be mascots.
Other roles given to children during the World Cup are flag bearers.
Wanda, the Chinese conglomerate and partner of the FIFA World Cup, has partnered with the Qatar Foundation to create it the Wanda FIFA Flag Bearers for the 2022 tournament. Children and young people between the ages of 12 and 16 were given the opportunity to hoist the FIFA flag during the pre-match ceremonies.
Some flag bearers were chosen Schools from Qatar who submitted their poems to the D’reesha Arabic Poetry Competitionan initiative of the Qatar Foundation with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
At the final at the Lusail Stadium, Argentina and France will go head-to-head to determine the world champion. Beside them, hand in hand, their player escorts will take the field for the last time in Qatar.
https://www.kvue.com/article/news/nation-world/why-do-soccer-players-walk-with-kids/507-b3e6cc44-e232-4856-913e-bec91450622a Why do soccer players take their kids to the field?