Monday, June 16, 2014
With the World Cup dominating the news for the next two weeks, the event can be viewed as unifying nations with a variety of cultural, religious and political differences peacefully under the umbrella of a world-wide sport. People bond within and between nations celebrating victories and agonizing over defeats, sharing the experiences within the soccer community. Yet soccer unifies the world in a much more significant way — as a force for social good. Just looking at host country, Brazil, people are aware of the issues that come with the clash between the haves and the have nots. So against the backdrop of festivity, we all pause to acknowledge how much work needs to be done in every country represented at the World Cup. Football is played all over the world in the most remote and underprivileged areas and as such has become an instinctive pathway to reach groups that might otherwise distrust the intrusion of aid and workers to their communities. Soccer also provides a means to inspire and collect contributions to promote better health, sanitation, safety, education and housing. While our children play the game they love, they also have the opportunity to make an impact on the needs and disadvantages of their football brothers and sisters around the world.
US Youth Soccer provides a number of grants and programs to groups in the U.S. to enable soccer in communities throughout America. In tandem with Liberty Mutual, a grant is offered to clubs who take a quiz on how to play safely and reasonably. This “Responsible Sports” grant can be won by any team who registers and then has as many members as possible take the quiz. The top 15 clubs can earn a $2,500 grant to be used to offset the costs of uniforms, equipment and upgrades for the club. The program gives all members of the club an opportunity to easily help out. US Youth Soccer also provides TOPSoccer, which uses volunteers to provide soccer for children with disabilities. Participants can learn the sport no matter what assistance they may need. Larger balls, volunteers to help push wheel chairs, firm surfaces for players using walkers, and guides for children with visual issues bring the sport to all kids who have the passion to play. United States Soccer Foundation sponsors the Passback Program, which collects good used soccer equipment to share with players who don’t have the resources to play. Clubs and state associations can provide collection sites through USSF and get help sending that equipment to the proper locations. Players can contribute jerseys, shorts, shoes, balls, shin guards and goals.
Several private organizations use the 2014 World Cup as a backdrop to promote their causes. The World FC Project planned a trip from Chicago, Ill., to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, passing through the 10 American countries that are participating in the World Cup to bring soccer to underserved areas in these nations. They want to use the passion for futbol “as a tool for social change.” Street Child World Cup in association with Save the Children recognizes that millions of children around the world survive solely on the streets of their cities. The parent organization, Street Child United, has brought together 19 teams from various countries around the world made up of street children to play in a World Cup prior to the big event. Their aim is “to provide a platform for street children to be heard, to challenge negative stereotypes of street children and to promote the rights of street children.” Walk to the World Cup is a project created by three English football fanatics who are walking from Mendoza, Argentina to Porto Alegre, Brazil (the southern-most World Cup site) a journey of 1966 kilometers. The idea is to raise enough money to construct a well in drought-ridden Bahia Brazil.
There are also soccer –related charities that offer players a chance to contribute simply by playing. Kick for Hope sponsors tournaments whose proceeds are used to provide water to areas in the form of wells and bathrooms. Simply by entering the tournaments and playing, kids are participating in projects to help around the world. Your own team and club can organize juggling contests, dribbling competitions, and tournaments from which all monies go to a soccer charity. These can be a fun way to give back and also give a club some welcome media attention. Create your event and then send out press releases to all news organizations in your area. They are always looking for “feel good” stories. If you organize these events before or during tryouts you might even get a residual benefit of luring more players to your club. A little creativity can result in big rewards for both your club and for soccer charities around the world. When sponsoring or selecting a tournament consider attaching yours to a charity or looking for a tournament with a charitable connection. It’s a great way to make soccer a force for improvement in the lives of children all over the world.
There are also soccer sponsored charities to which you can give directly. Charity Ball purchases new balls to be hand-delivered to children around the world. It was founded by a youth player, Ethan King, who has played soccer in South Africa and the U.S. He accompanied his father on several trips throughout Africa to help repair water wells and saw firsthand how desperately kids in the villages wanted to play soccer but were thwarted by the lack of a proper ball. For each $25 contribution a new ball will be purchased and delivered to children in developing countries. Challenger Sports, headquartered in Kansas City raises money through camps, an academy, and tournaments as well as direct donations to provide all the equipment necessary to play soccer for under-sponsored groups in both the United States and around the world, particularly in Central and South America and Africa. In a grassroots effort to introduce and support soccer in areas without resources Challenger Sports also provides coaching clinics for volunteer parents through a partnership with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America educating over 3000 volunteer coaches in 2011. Through soccer they also educate players in war-torn countries about the dangers of unexploded land mines. Mazamba encourages exchanges with American and African soccer youth using the sport to promote education, cultural understanding, and building political bridges. Football 4 Africa is a British organization who uses soccer in Britain and Africa to promote fundraising to build schools in Africa. They recently completed their first school and are now collecting for a second to be built. Soccer can attract kids to educational settings which they might otherwise bypass, so Football 4 Africa provides donated soccer kits to children in villages to encourage them to get an education along with the fun of playing the sport.
We are lucky to have lots of supporting organizations to help our kids compete. These groups establish leagues, tournaments, and scouting opportunities that undeveloped countries don’t have. The World Cup brings together the best soccer players around the planet, many of whom had the good fortune to have come up through a strong development program, while other players had less support. Additionally there are millions of kids who may have tremendous skill but due to poverty, isolation, and malnutrition don’t have the chance to grab the brass ring. Soccer can be a conduit not only to athletic accomplishments but to the opportunities for the basic necessities of life. Using football to reach out to communities around the world takes the language of play to unite us in a common cause. When Robbie was in Kenya to do relief work in malaria prevention he played soccer in every location he visited. While he and the kids didn’t speak the same language they communicated through the game. He gained their trust and friendship by simply kicking around a ball. And through those friendship he was able to earn the trust of parents to teach them about using mosquito tents. You can go to any vacant lot, alley, or field in the world, start juggling a ball, and have a dozen people ready to participate in a pick-up game. That’s the universal power of soccer to attract people and in that attraction lies a social force beyond the game.