Play it Forward social-media campaign promotes soccer as a way to end violence against women

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      A new social-media campaign hopes to put an end to violence against women and girls with the help of the world’s most popular sport.

      The initiative—called Play it Forward—will run from June 1 to July 5, and encourages the use of soccer to raise awareness and money to help end gender-based violence.

      “The great Nelson Mandela said that sport has the power to change the world, and I really believe that sport is a unifying force,” said Linda Diano, the Vancouver-based advocate behind the campaign.

      Diano is a former track-and-field athlete and founder of The Power in Sport—a nonprofit organization that uses sport as an advocacy tool.

      She launched the Play it Forward campaign as a fun way to “to tap into people’s desire to see girls and women held higher in society” as well as to push people to participate in a charitable act.

      The campaign follows the model of last year’s ground-breaking ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but instead of getting drenched in freezing water, supporters of Play it Forward are asked to play soccer for 20 minutes and 15 seconds.

      They should then take a selfie, add a message calling for the end of violence against women, upload it on social media using the hashtags #2015in2015 and #PlayItForward, and challenge three more friends to do the same.

      “I’d like to see this go viral,” Diano said. “The opportunity is for girls and women, and boys and men who support girls and women, to get their soccer ball, grab a friend, and just play a pick-up game of soccer...and call for the end of violence!”

      Diano’s goal is to help raise awareness of violence against women—a problem that is prevalent around the globe, including Canada, according to UN reports

      Participants are also asked to consider donating to organizations that help victims of violence against women, such as the Battered Women's Support Services and the Monarch Place Transition House.

      Diano is a firm believer that sport can help bring an end to violence against women.

      That is why she organized the Play it Forward month to coincide with the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which will be played in six Canadian cities between June 6 and July 5.

      “The Women’s World Cup is more than just about soccer; it’s about sending a message of hope to girls and women around the world,” Diano said, adding that as soon as she heard that the World Cup was coming to Canada, she knew it would be a good opportunity to foster positive change.

      The month-long Play it Forward campaign hopes to reach its climax on June 28, a day Diano is calling the international Play it Forward day.

      That day will be celebrated by soccer clubs in India, Brazil, Costa Rica, Australia, Mali, and across Canada, that have already committed to participating in the 2015in2015 challenge.

      “It’s exciting to see the vibrancy of the message in different cultures,” Diano said.