Social Distance Football draws global fans

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A Cambodian Covid-inspired version of football is grabbing the attention of a global audience. Photo supplied

It is common for players to race toward the goal, pulling, pushing and shuffling opponents to the ground in a football match.

A new version of the game, however, has adapted the rules for Covid-19 and requires all players on the pitch to wear a face mask, keep a 2m distance from each other, and control the ball for only five seconds at a time.

Welcome to Social Distance Football.

Coaches from the Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF), a Cambodian charity that uses education and sport as a tool to change lives, created the new safety rules.

“We wanted to reinvent the game to make it safer and show kids on the streets how to avoid Covid-19. We needed new rules for a new world that includes temperature checks, hand washing before and after playing, face masks, two-metre distance from each other and running from side to side [similar to foosball, or table football] and without physical attacks,” an ISF video says.

The result of schools being closed also means many children and adults are playing football on the streets without taking precautions.

“Cambodian kids are in a difficult position. Schools have closed for their safety but because most parents have to work, that means some are looking after themselves or are out on the streets playing football,” ISF Country Manager Vicheka Chourp says.

ISF’s Football Programme manager Samedy Yin came up with the core concept and developed the rules with ISF’s community coaches.

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Social Distance Football players are embracing the new sport and the responsibility. Photo supplied

The internationally recognised principles of social distancing are enforced, including the wearing of masks and a ban on getting closer than two metres to another person.

He said this means big changes – players are given their playing zones with a more side-to-side style of play, rather than running moving back and forth. Players who break the rules are sent into quarantine.

Coaches decided to try out the new game last month with students. It took some getting used to, but the teams learned fast and realised it was a game that encouraged teamwork and creative communication, the coaches reported.

The report quoted a young player, Vattanak, 13: “I always love playing football, and I like this version of the game because it teaches teamwork. I’m glad to know I can play in a way which keeps me safer.”

Chourp says: “Right now there might not be many cases of Covid-19 in Cambodia, but as the government has said many times, we must try and keep ourselves safe in case there is a second wave. We hope kids see the video and decide it is safer.”

The first video of Social Distance Football posted last month was viewed more than 160,000 times in Cambodia, with at least 40,000 views from children aged 13 to 17, the demographic ISF is most trying to reach.

ISF reports the game has been shared globally, from the US to Europe, and the Asian Football Confederation has praised the idea.

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The reinvented game is a lot like foosball in that players move more side to side. Photo supplied

“This is the power of creativity, determination and most of all love because out of chaos and despair something beautiful has arisen because it was necessary for the communities,” says Christopher Lantigua, a football coach in New York who saw the video online.

Coaches Across Continents, a global collaboration of communities, corporations, and foundations that uses purposeful play and education outside the classroom, has been supportive of ISF’s efforts.

ISF has urged football organisations around the world to try out Social Distance Football. The rules are available on its website. ISF has received enquiries from as far away as the US and Europe and it has worked with an Indian NGO on how to adapt the game for that country.

However, ISF has decided to focus its energy on rolling out the programme to other NGOs in Cambodia first.

ISF coaches will offer virtual courses to other Cambodian NGOs wanting to adapt the game, with in-person visits to those based in Phnom Penh.

For more details about Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF), you can access its website: https://isfcambodia.org/ or watch the promotional video of Social Distance Football by visiting Facebook: @isf.cambodia.