Just a few days before the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, 116 teens from 28 countries arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to attend the first-ever Global Copa Coca-Cola Camp. This program was created with the goal to bring together teens from around the world over shared a passion of football, to discover new cultures, and to celebrate the World’s Cup firsthand.

Every aspect of the camp was carefully organized in such a way that would facilitate cross-cultural connections, but no planning could have prepared us for the beautiful phenomenon we witnessed during the course of the week.

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As teens began to arrive on site, some traveling more than 40 hours to get to Brazil, we could see that these teens truly would give anything for football. Sleep-deprived and travel-weary, they received their Copa Coca-Cola Camp kits with huge grins and immediately made their way to the football pitches to begin playing with whoever was ready and available. For the opening dinner and party, we asked participants to come wearing white, a symbolic act of temporarily putting their national team colors aside and coming together with a blank slate, ready to adopt new team loyalties with friends from around the world. I had briefed the emcee and DJs ahead of time, explaining that these teens – mostly boys – would be shy and may need some encouragement and icebreakers to come together and mix at the party. I was wrong.

The participants needed no encouragement from us or the chaperones. They sought each other out, began introducing themselves however they could – and when language was a barrier, they simply communicated through dance. The dance floor was packed, and all were laughing and having a great time. I knew then that the week would exceed our expectations for international inclusion and united celebration.

Our first full day of the camp was dedicated to Brazilian football, and participants were taught to play like the Brazilian stars they had long seen on TV. Shoes and socks off, participants hit the sand court to learn how football is played on the beaches of Brazil. Coaches led the boys and girls through drills with mini Coca-Cola cans to hone their accuracy and quickness, leading them in the almost dance-like moves of the Brazilian best. Perhaps the most popular activity of the day came when participants were led through a Capoeira workshop to learn a traditional Brazilian dance that builds strength and flexibility.

After a traditional Brazilian BBQ lunch with a Pagode band, select participants joined local Special Olympics athletes for a Unified Game of football. This game represented the spirit of Copa Coca-Cola and served as an example of how football can unite those with and without intellectual disabilities, boys and girls, Brazilian and non-Brazilian.

The highlight of the program was the Legacy Day. Participants were given the opportunity to share their passion for the game and "give back" to their host city. Joined by Brazilian football legends Bebeto and Marta, participants unveiled two completely renovated football pitches for the Dom Bosco Social Project in Itaquera, Sao Paulo. In addition to breaking in the pitches together with teens from the community, participants were led by Brazilian street artist Speto to leave a painted Legacy Wall alongside the pitches.

Jean Francois Dekimpe, Coke's group marketing and customer and commercial leadership director for Eurasia and Africa and the global Copa Coca-Cola charter lead, gave an inspiring speech to officially dedicate the pitches. He reminded the audience that the “power of football brings people together and breaks down boundaries” and that “through Copa Coca-Cola, children and teenagers from all over the world unite through their love of football.”

After attending the opening ceremony and first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, participants returned to the camp venue to prepare for two days of tournament play. Teams were carefully organized, each comprised of members from all different countries. To see the unity, loyalty and dedication these participants had for their new teammates was to see Copa Coca-Cola’s vision manifested in a most beautiful way.Cultural, economic, racial barriers were broken both on and off the pitch, and it became clear to those at the camp that we have at best underestimated the true power of Copa Coca-Cola: teens want to have fun. They want to play be active, and play football. They want to make friends. They want to explore. And they will do all of this at the expense of being guarded, complacent, and staying safely in their comfort zones.

We are confident that those who came to the Camp will return home changed, and will be Copa Coca-Cola ambassadors for life. I, for one, can say that I have also returned home changed, even more convinced that the commitment our company has to keeping teens active and healthy is inevitably a commitment to keeping teens happy.

Elizabeth Griffith is global football manager on The Coca-Cola Company's worldwide sports team.

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