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Bradford teen finishes second in virtual world soccer match

Luca Venditti and his team took home second place in the virtual world soccer tournament this past spring, and hopes to be able to attend in person this year

Fourteen-year-old Luca Venditti of Bradford West Gwillimbury is an aspiring young soccer player who discovered a new way to stay engaged with the popular sport during the pandemic through virtual championship, Football for Friendship (F4F).

Venditti is a Grade 9 student at Holy Trinity High School. His favourite team is Juventus and he currently plays centre-mid position with the King United Soccer Club in King City.

“I love it!” exclaims Venditti. “It’s a great team, great coach, great players, the atmosphere is just amazing!”

Over the past year, the pandemic had a detrimental effect on many people’s lives all over the world, in particular, the youth. Many were adversely affected by the immediate cancellation of all sports and professional recreational activities.

Venditti looked for a way to follow his passion and connect with other aspiring young footballers from around the world, and in May 2021, he participated in the Football for Friendship (F4F) eWorld Championships and once again represented Canada on the (virtual) world stage.

Football for Friendship is an annual international children’s soccer program that uses a multiplayer football (soccer) simulator to host world-wide virtual championships. The program includes several sports and educational events held virtually in different countries around the globe with the aim of promoting values and friendship through the shared love of the sport.

The program has been running for nine seasons now, and has brought more than 16,000 participants from all over the world together, and has expanded into 211 diverse countries and regions.

The event has gained recognition through the Guinness World Records for the most multinational football training session in history, the most users in a football video ‘hangout’, and for the most visitors at a virtual stadium.

Venditti was placed on Team "Crested Ibis" and was one of 300 participants selected to represent his country. This was his second time participating in the free program.

“Because of the pandemic, this was the best thing we could do,” shares Venditti. “We had to focus on communication through the Zoom call and that’s part of how soccer operates.”

“It’s pretty incredible the way its run,” adds Venditti’s father, Enzo Venditti, who is a big fan of the sport himself.

The F4F program used to run as a live, in-person event where the organization would fly the selected participants to a different country every year to play in national championships. But due to COVID, the organization had to pivot and switched to an online platform in the interim.

While the program culminated in online gaming, participating in the event also included daily discussions with the F4F instructors about the "Nine Values" of the F4F organization: friendship, equality, fairness, health, peace, devotion, victory, traditions, and honour.

“I really honour fairness and victory because you have to have sportsmanship but you also really want to win,” says Venditti.

Venditti shares there were no language-barriers during the event’s month-and-half commitment, and he was able to make connections with kids playing the sport from Columbia, Trinidad & Tobago, Bolivia, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, and Paraguay.

“I was in ‘wow’ at that age, the kids already knew how to speak English (well) in their own country,” says Venditti’s mother, Lia Venditti.

Venditti explains that the training was different of course with the virtual platform, and sometimes the time differences would have him waking up at 5 a.m. to train.

“You would see (kids) train in an apartment, training in their living rooms,” he recalls, adding he would practice passing and receiving in his basement. 

During the program, participants were treated to a live, online meet and greet with FIFA World Cup Champion and Real Madrid star, Roberto Carlos. Venditti recalls setting his alarm clock for 3 a.m. so he could meet his idol.

“It was amazing! Just talking to this soccer legend and being face to face on screen with him, that was amazing!” he exclaims.

When it came time to play the game, all players were supplied with virtual "superpowers" infused into the game to make it more fun for the participants. Venditti’s power was invincibility.

Venditti and his team, Crested Ibis, made it to the finals and finished in 2nd place after a close finals match. The event was streamed on YouTube here

Prizes for the winning team members included a brand-new smartphone for each player, and a generous grant-donation of $10K to all the members’ respective soccer clubs they each play with back home in their countries.

The prize money comes from large corporate sponsors like "Gazprom" in Moscow and is provided to each club to further support the F4F’s nine values for youth in the community.

The grant money which will go to King United Soccer Club, converts to $15K. 

“Although King are fierce competitors on the field, they play a style of soccer that exemplifies those same Nine Values of the F4F,” shares Enzo. 

Venditti and his younger brother (who also participated in the match) plan to participate again next year and are hoping to be able to travel through the organization’s program to experience this type of event, live and in-person.

“It was a great experience to be a part of the friendship interaction,” shares Venditti. “I’m training and trying to get better every day and hope to become a professional player.”

"Luca has learned valuable life lessons from being part of this event, life lessons that will surely impact the rest of his life!" adds his father.

Jackie Kozak

About the Author: Jackie Kozak

Jackie Kozak is a reporter/writer whose work appears on both BradfordToday and InnisfilToday
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