Football, the beautiful game for social good

Jürgen Griesbeck
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Looking back, I believe that the 2006 World Cup in Germany was a significant milestone in the history of the world’s biggest sporting event. For the first time, the notion that football can have a social impact entered the public consciousness – in the form of a global festival in Berlin.

The event brought together 24 delegations from a global network of organizations which use football as a tool for local development – addressing a range of issues such as education, health awareness, peace-building and social inclusion. The platform offered by the World Cup gave these organizations unprecedented visibility and recognition for their work, thus strengthening their capacity to shape their communities.

If the idea took hold in 2006, then in 2010 it went to the next level: social commitment became an official part of the FIFA World Cup, with numerous initiatives celebrating football for social change. Brazil 2014 will be the next step on this journey, as we seek to create a widespread understanding of our belief in football’s transformative power.

Ahead of the 2014 World Cup, it is understandable that expectations are geared towards a euphoric celebration of the beautiful game, accompanied by a huge potential for investment. However, the opportunities provided by such an event entail a duty to address pressing social challenges, such as gang violence, gender inequality and youth unemployment. Football’s special appeal lies in its ability to motivate and effectively deliver important messages.

For instance, Street League, an organization based in the United Kingdom, uses a combination of football training and education to help more than 2,000 disadvantaged young people into employment and training each year. Similar initiatives can be found all over the world.

The diverse and influential range of stakeholders who contribute to the World Cup offers a rare chance to create a lasting social legacy not only for the host nation but also for an entire region. Together with FIFA, streetfootballworld is supporting the implementation of the 2013 Football for Hope Forum in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, as well as the 2014 Football for Hope Festival in Rio, facilitating knowledge exchange between organizations in the field and celebrating their considerable achievements.

We are also working with the German Development Agency (GIZ) and the Brazilian government to institutionalize football as a force for social change in Brazil by consolidating a national network of community-based organizations.

I believe that the social potential of the World Cup can be fully realized only through the collaboration of the various stakeholder groups– the organizing body (FIFA), governments, corporations, and grassroots development organizations – with each of these stakeholders contributing their specific expertise and resources towards a common goal and the sustainability of its positive impact.

In 2010, this type of collective action generated funds for the construction of 20 Football for Hope Centres throughout Africa. These are sustainable, community-led health, education and sport facilities, which strengthen existing local development projects and act as hubs for entrepreneurial solutions.

Ultimately, there are different ways to measure the success of a mega event such as the FIFA World Cup – the profits made, the number of viewers, the quality of the football. However, we believe that the true success of such an event can be measured only 10 or 15 years later by looking at the long-term effect on local communities.

Author: Jürgen Griesbeck, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, streetfootballworld, Germany; Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Europe, 2011

 Image: A child is seen playing with a football REUTERS/Stringer

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