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Play It Forward 2023: Standout Moments from the World of Soccer

Fahaby (left) and Michell representing SWB at Festival '23 in Sydney.

As we celebrate SWB United, our Play It Forward campaign for 2023, we are excited to share this series of year-end blogs centered around the ways that soccer has the power to inspire, unite, and create a more inclusive and equitable world. 

For the remainder of the year, join us each Wednesday as we bring you special mission moments, motivating books and movies, inspirational soccer memories, and more – all chosen by SWB staff!


Over the past few weeks, staff members from across Soccer Without Borders (SWB) have shared the mission moments and inspirational reads that have been a source of motivation throughout the year. This time around, we asked staff and coaches to share memories from the world of soccer that have resonated with them most in 2023 – those moments, big and small, that have fanned the flame of their passion for the global game.

As the entries started to pour in, there was one thing that became immediately clear: 2023 was a year full of celebration for the rise of the women's game! Take the Women's World Cup for example: According to FIFA, over 1.7 million match tickets were sold, global TV viewership records were smashed, and historically underrepresented nations found success (for example, China had the highest audience for a single match, a staggering 53.9 million people watched their game against England!)

Investing in girls and women creates positive effects that reverberate throughout the course of her life, as well as in her family and community. Research consistently demonstrates that girls who play sports improve academically, make healthier choices, and show increased positive body-image and self-confidence. Despite these numerous benefits, less than 12% of participants in the “world's game” are female.

Barriers to girls’ participation in sport stem from a range of factors — including familial obligations, social and cultural norms, economic constraints, and safety concerns — that often reinforce and exacerbate one another. Since many of these factors are deeply rooted in traditional sports models, eradicating them requires proactive, rather than simply reactive, approaches. This is where SWB comes in.

We actively work to address barriers of all kinds to make sure that girls from diverse cultural backgrounds can get in the game. One major component of this work includes ensuring that every girl who steps on the pitch has female role models they can look up to.

The following stories were chosen as some of the year's most memorable and uplifting moments in women's soccer. More than just feel-good stories, though, they stand as a testiment to the idea that "if she can see it, she can be it."

Coach Fahaby and Coach Michell Represent SWB at Festival ‘23 in Sydney, Australia

Fahaby Kitimbo, Senior Program Coordinator at our SWB Uganda hub, and Michell Guadamuz, captain of Granada FC and alumna coach at our SWB Nicaragua hub, represented SWB, East Africa and Nicaragua as youth delegates at Festival ‘23, an 8-day youth festival of football for good held in Sydney during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup quarter-final week!

Fahaby and Michell were among 70 leaders from 40 countries across the Common Goal community, including representatives from all of the Equal Play Effect regions.

While there, they took part in capacity-building workshops, immersive cross-cultural activities, world-class forums, and a fair play football tournament. Upon returning to SWB Uganda and SWB Nicaragua, they had the opportunity to share their experience and learnings with the local SWB community, ensuring that the impact of Festival ‘23 continues to live on.

Linda Caicedo Overcomes Adversity to Inspire at the Women’s World Cup

“Linda Caicedo's goal against Germany and Colombia's subsequent World Cup run has to be up there.” - Nora, Director of SWB Assist

“Linda Caicedo's first goal in the World Cup and her story.”  - Larkin, SWB Director of Monitoring and Learning

Linda Caicedo’s goal against pre-tournament favorites Germany was voted best goal of the 2023 Women’s World Cup and was nominated for a FIFA Puskas Award. The Real Madrid and Columbia Women’s National team forward has become one of the world’s most exciting up and coming footballers, yet, her bravery off the field may be the thing that has inspired us most at SWB. In the article below, learn about Caicedo’s love for the game, overcoming cancer at the age of 15, and the things in her life that motivate her most.   

Sophie Braun’s Jaw Dropping Goal for Argentina at the Women’s World Cup

“Former teammate Sophie Braun scoring an absolute BANGER for Argentina against South Africa in the 2023 Women's World Cup to then be nominated for ‘Goal of the World Cup.’” 

- Sydney, SWB Coach-Mentor Fellow

Not only did the Argentina Women's National Team and Club León star score one of the most remarkable goals at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, she is also a friend of SWB who has gone out of her way to encourage our participants by making special appearances at our SWB Colorado and Massachusetts hubs. 

After Sophie shared her story with SWB Colorado on Zoom, one participant from our Aurora-West site wrote: “my favorite part of [Sophie’s] call was when [she] talked to us about not giving up on your passion and that inspired me to not give up on my passions too.”

NY/NJ Gotham FC’s Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly Crowned NWSL Champions

“Watching Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly be part of the winning NWSL team. Their journeys over the last few years have been so incredibly challenging and to see their perseverance rewarded with a championship was a storybook ending.” - Mia, SWB People and Culture Coordinator

Whether we’re cheering for (friend of SWB) Naomi Girma as she laces up for the San Diego Wave, partnering with Angel City FC on new and innovative initiatives, or creating memories with SWB participants at a live Washington Spirit match, we cherish every opportunity to celebrate the women’s game. Therefore, many of us at SWB staff were delighted to witness Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, true role models both on and off the pitch, lift the 2023 NWSL championship trophy. 

The South Africa Women’s National Team Spread Joy Through their Voices

“The South African women's team getting hyped by singing their traditional music prior to the start of their games” - Sarah, SWB Program Manager

Listening to the South Africa Women’s National Team sing with passion and pride is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. One can’t help but be reminded of two of the mantras that help guide the culture of SWB, “you play best when you’re smiling” and “leave your shoes at the door.” These mantras evoke the values we place on diversity, inclusion, joy, and self-expression – ideas that were beautiflly captured by the South Africa Women's National Team in the clip linked below.

The Reggae Girls Make History: Jamaica Qualifies for the Women’s World Knockout Round

“The Reggae girl’s performance at the World Cup in spite of their federation (holding their federation accountable).” - Larkin, SWB Director of Monitoring and Learning

The Jamaican National Women's Team became the first Caribbean nation ever to advance from the women's group stage. But it wasn't easy getting there, the team had to set up a crowdfunding page to help cover costs associated with playing in the World Cup, including a training camp, food and travel. 

Rallying around Jenni Hermoso and the Spanish Women’s National Team

“Number one would probably be how the Spanish team supported Jenni Hermoso, and each other, and the football world removed an abusive man from his position of power.” - Nora, Director of SWB Assist

From our partners at Common Goal: “Sadly, it might be true that if Spain hadn’t won the World Cup, the spotlight that is so needed to highlight the systemic issues and abuses in football wouldn’t be shining where it is needed.

The pressure that has been borne out of that victory needs to remain in order to bring about necessary change. But, while keeping those who contributed to a toxic culture accountable, let’s also appreciate the incredible achievements of Spanish players, who accomplished so much on and off the pitch despite a system that did not nourish them to shine their brightest.”

The Memories Made in Our Own Backyards

“Reuniting with some old team members in a summer league. Even though we hadn't played or seen each other together in years it felt like we had never left the ‘field’.” - Grace, SWB Coach-Mentor Fellow

While many of the moments listed above are a testament to the rise of the women’s game in stadiums, TV sets, and live streams around the world, sometimes the most meaningful soccer memories are the ones that you experience in your own backyard with your own community. For SWB staff members Fahaby and Grace, their favorite soccer memories of 2023 were those that celebrated belonging, community, and the life-long lessons that are learned through sports. 

“This was a personal moment that I was engaged in”, recalled Fahaby, Senior Program Coordinator at our SWB Uganda hub. “It was the last Saturday of July when I went to play a league with my friends and the format of teams was each team, one girl. We had 4 games that day and 3 of our key players had not come for the league that round. The team was disorganized and scared, we lost the first game and everyone was complaining. Then, we lost the second game as well. 

As we were going to sit and meditate about the games, one of the key players finally arrived. Going into the game, we had a team meeting and he was so encouraging. He requested everyone to forget about the last two games and focus because we needed the win. We were playing the top team, they had scored 3 and we had 0. But after he encouraged us, we managed to equalize and also we won the game at the end!”


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