Last weekend’s triumph by Barcelona over Manchester United for the UEFA Champion’s League title was a scintillating performance by what is arguably the best professional football team ever assembled. The skill and agility of Lionel Messi and the pin-point passing by Xavi were world class. Reflecting upon my time at the pub after watching the match albeit filled with disappointment of Manchester United’s poor second half display, I have come to realize the power of the beautiful game. I stopped and realized that the East London pub was a veritable melting pot of ethnicities and nationalities and gave me motivation to explore how the beautiful game was being used across Europe to promote social integration.
The passion exhibited for football has proved this sport has the capacity to be used as a catalyst to integrate society. A German organisation called streetfootballworld does exactly that with aim to help tackle endemic community issues on a global scale. Founded in 2002, streetfootballworld is a social profit organisation that has created 80 programmes around the world. More recently, streetfootballworld formed a partnership with FIFA to create the Football for Hope Movement. A movement FIFA professes is an ‘attractive platform for public and private sectors, civil society and multilateral development institutions to invest’ to help initiate social change.
Streetfootballworld programmes in Ireland and France have had massive impacts in local communities. In Ireland, the SARI Programme (Sport against Racism in Ireland) helps new communities of Africans, Asians, and Eastern Europeans integrate into Irish society . The organisation focuses on social development through lobbying, its annual youth football tournament and educational youth sports integration project. The SARI Programme has been instrumental in giving kids and young adults opportunities to assimilate into Irish culture through their Count Us In initiative that helps kids understand values in sport and how those values can be used in real life.
Integration issues in France became a priority on the social agenda after the 2005 riots. Immigrants in France have often been relegated to the lower stratus of French society. The disenfranchised immigrant youth face social exclusion and high unemployment. A streefootballworld sponsored programme called Sport Dans La Ville was created to provide a solution to help immigrants incorporate into French society. Every week 2,000 kids and young adults aged 7-20 take part in Sport Dans La Ville which provides them a chance to enjoy sport and gain important life skills. The programme also provides formal job training to older participants to prepare them to join the working world.
The Champion’s League Final was a wonderful showcase for European football and proved football is a unifying entity. Streetfootballworld has realized this and has used football to help youth integration in deprived areas. It gives hope that through sport many social issues can be rectified and lead to a more peaceful co-existence for all.