By: Anders Levinsen, Managing Director of Cross Cultures
Gia was one of the first persons to introduce me to Georgia. The very first thing Gia did was to take me into South Ossetia. He found it highly important to introduce me to people there, with the hope that Open Fun Football Schools could help him to rebuild relations among people across frontiers. The next thing Gia did was to introduce me to the specific Georgian dining-culture under the lead of the Tamada.
So far, Gia is the only person in the entire OFFS family who has managed to use the OFFS program to stop a war temporarily. Allow me to reproduce Gia’s narrative in these words:
We organized an Open Fun Football School in the village of Tamaraseni, bringing together children of Georgian and South-East background. One night, the war broke out between the Russian and Georgian forces, and they exchanged fire across the football field. In the morning when the fire had stopped, Gia decided to go to the stadium to look for our equipment. When he showed up, he was met by 150 kids and some of their parents and OFFS-coaches. They insisted to get access to the equipment, and after some discussion Gia decided to roll out the Open Fun Football Schools with the Russian and the Georgian combatting forces as spectators from the hills surrounding the stadium.
What happened next was that OSCE had a representative based in Thrinshvali (the main town in South Ossetia). The representative was a “Bulgarian bear”. He was big. Maybe 203 cm high, with a weight of more than 130 kg. Apparently, he decided to go to the battle field (the football stadium) to see if he could negotiate a ceasefire between the warring parties, and therefore he jumped into his Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) – which is a little tank. When you are a passenger in an APC you sit in ‘the stomach’ of the APC and are not able to watch out on the landscape or roads. Anyway, the APC arrived to the stadium. The Bulgarian bear got out of the APC an expected to jump into a battlefield, but he entered into an Open Fun Football School with 150 kids playing fun football with piping music in the loud speakers!
The Bulgarian bear enjoyed the OFFS for maybe 20 minutes. Then he left and after two hours he returned again together with the local chief of police and three empty busses. They asked us to stop the OFFS and help them to evacuate the children and their families from the village – which we did. And at 5 pm the war resumed again.
In this fantastic way, Gia has always been among the OFFS-pioneers and as OFFS-leader he has always insisted of the core of our operation – to use the Open Fun Football School program as means to bring peace and security to the children and internally displaced persons in his home district.
Thank you Gia. I will never forget all the good moments we have enjoyed together. I will never forget how you took the Open Fun Football School program to a new level in Tamarasheni. I will never forget our dances together on seminars at the Gerlev Sport Academy. Your wonderful smile. How you always beat me in backgammon. Your many Tamada-toasts and your wonderful and lovely personality.
My warm thoughts go to Gia’s family, but also to the OFFS-family. I am grateful to you for all the good time we have spent together.
/ Anders Levinsen