Soccer Stars and Celebrities Join Forces in the Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2021The biggest charity soccer match in the world is back with another star-studded cast of players. Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2021 has become a fixture for soccer fans to look forward to. Fans can watch old legends square off against celebrities — all for a good cause. This year, Soccer Aid for UNICEF hopes to reach a wider audience than ever before in order to aid in the recovery to COVID-19.

The Beginning of Soccer Aid for UNICEF

Dating back 15 years ago, singer Robbie Williams partnered with UNICEF for the first-ever Soccer Aid for UNICEF charity match, and now it has taken off as an annual tradition and great fundraiser for UNICEF. Each year an English team faces an international team in an iconic stadium where supporters can purchase tickets or watch live at home. The game has raised almost £50 million since it first began in 2006. Last year, Soccer Aid for UNICEF raised more than £9 million, breaking records for the charity match, and this year it hopes to go even higher.

This year, spectators can look forward to watching legends like Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Patrice Evra, Fara Williams, Roberto Carlos and all-time leading goal scorer for England, Wayne Rooney, take the pitch. Rooney said, “Soccer Aid for UNICEF has been a massive force for good since it started back in 2006 and I know the public will support us again this year.” These elite players will be alongside plenty of star power like Usain Bolt, Olly Murs, Paddy McGuiness, Tom Grennan and more suiting up for the exhibition.

Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2021

For the first time ever, The Etihad Stadium, home to league winners Manchester City, will host the event. UNICEF U.K. Ambassador Dermot O’Leary is looking forward to the match, saying: “The game is going to be incredible this year… The money we raise really will make a huge difference to children’s lives everywhere… Having recently become a UNICEF UK Ambassador myself, I know how much your money and your support can help children in really tough situations be able to just be children again.” She added that “the COVID-19 crisis is making life for children in the world’s poorest countries even harder, so let’s bring play back!”

This year the charity match will have a whole week of fundraising activities leading up to the big day. The funds raised this year will go toward COVID-19 recovery and vaccination efforts. UNICEF has set its most ambitious goal yet with the hope of providing two billion vaccines for frontline workers and teachers around the world. Soccer Aid for UNICEF notes: “Children worldwide won’t be safe until everyone they rely on is safe.” The goal for the Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2021 is to get children back in school and back to receiving the health care and nutritional services they need.

When stars and sporting legends align to fight global poverty, good things happen! We can look forward to more good thanks to Soccer Aid for UNICEF.

– Alex Muckenfuss
Photo: Flickr

Soccer Programs Addressing Global PovertySoccer is one of the most popular sports on the international stage, with more than four billion fans. Additionally, roughly 30 billion people watch the FIFA World Cup. This proves that soccer can bring many people together despite different linguistic or cultural backgrounds. With this in mind, soccer programs across the world are harnessing people’s love for the game to help the impoverished. Three particular soccer programs are addressing global poverty and are making the world a better place.

3 Soccer Programs Addressing Global Poverty

  1. Football for Change: Founded by British national team player Trent Alexander-Arnold, Football for Change is a nonprofit organization working to alleviate youth poverty in the United Kingdom. Alexander-Arnold wanted to use his platform to raise awareness for youth poverty, so he launched Football for Change to fund educational programs in low-income neighborhoods. Other professional soccer players, including Conor Coady and Andrè Gomez, have joined the nonprofit to show young people that success is possible despite economic hardship.
  2. Girls Soccer Worldwide: This nonprofit organization was founded by a husband and wife duo to address female poverty around the world. The organization’s mission includes securing equal opportunities for women on and off the field. These opportunities include equal access to soccer leagues, education and politics. To accomplish this goal, Girls Soccer Worldwide establishes all-female recreational soccer teams across the world, and most notably in Paraguay, to uplift women’s voices. Girls Soccer Worldwide also encourages others to contribute by participating in fundraising events such as walkathons and 5k runs. Its most recent 5k run for a cause occurred on July 11, 2021.
  3. Grassroots Soccer: This organization combats global poverty by supporting athletic and academic programs around the world. To date, Grassroots Soccer has helped implement soccer, health and educational programs in 45 countries in Latin America, South America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. The organization raises awareness of both global poverty and health risks associated with HIV/AIDS and malaria. Currently, it is introducing an HIV treatment delivery service program in Zambia to provide people living with HIV medicine and support. Notable supporters of the Grassroots Soccer organization include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.N. and the CDC. However, anyone can support the Grassroots Soccer Foundation by launching personal fundraising campaigns and playing soccer for a cause. Educational institutions including Brown University, Vassar College, Georgetown University and Yale University have launched campaigns to raise money for the organization in the past.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that sports are “increasingly recognized as an important tool” to help “create a better world.” People’s shared admiration for soccer can provide the basis for a common goal of helping the world’s most impoverished people. Soccer programs addressing global poverty, like Football for Change, Girls Soccer Worldwide and Grassroots Soccer, lead the way in using sports to help combat poverty.

– Chloe Young
Photo: Flickr

Brazilian Soccer Players When COVID-19 spread worldwide in 2020, it left most countries with devastation. Shortly after the world’s attention turned to Italy, Brazil found itself facing a similar fate. Brazil initially underestimated the virus’s severity, and as a result, Brazil is struggling to overcome the outbreak, currently ranking third in the world for the highest number of COVID-19 cases. For a developing country such as Brazil, the impacts of COVID-19 are particularly harsh. Brazilian soccer players are coming together to support the fight against COVID-19 in Brazil.

Brazil as an Epicenter of COVID-19

As of May 30, 2021, Brazil reported more than 16 million COVID-19 cases and more than 462,000 deaths. Brazil has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in Latin America. Brazil reported a surge of deaths in April 2021 with a peak of more than 4,000 daily deaths. Despite these high numbers, President Bolsonaro has made several statements underestimating the severity of the pandemic, stating that it is merely a case of minor flu. Furthermore, he refused to impose lockdowns or curfews to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Bolsonaro also disregarded opportunities to secure millions of vaccines for Brazil. Bolsonaro’s loose measures for containing the virus have been universally condemned.

Brazil Urges the World for Help

After the devastating impacts of COVID-19, Brazilian state governors begged the United Nations for urgent help. The call for help asks for assistance through “vaccines, hospital supplies and even manpower.” Before Brazil became the epicenter of the virus, the Trump administration helped Brazil with $20 million in pandemic assistance. The U.S. provided $75 million in aid for the private sector and 1,000 ventilators.

President Trump even sent along millions of hydroxychloroquine pills. According to a spokesperson for the European Union, the EU provided $28 million worth of grants to Brazil since the beginning of COVID-19. Germany also shipped ventilators to the country. Additionally, the World Health Organization shipped COVID-19 vaccines to Brazil to ensure vaccine equity.

Brazilian Soccer Players Fighting COVID-19

After seeing their country’s desperate situation, Brazilian soccer players are coming together to support the fight against COVID-19. In April 2020, footballers such as Neymar and Alisson as well coaches and the country’s football federation (CBF) came together to donate approximately $1 million to vulnerable families struggling economically during the pandemic.

In a statement on the CBF website, Neymar says, “In difficult times like these, lots of families need help, our help.” A group of 57 soccer players and staff members as well as former FC Barcelona player, Dani Alves, collectively donated $463,787. The donation went to three organizations supporting the most impoverished and crowded cities in Brazil, enough to provide two months’ worth of hygiene products and nutrition to 32,000 households.

The Brazilian football manager, commonly known as “Tite,” urged fans and other athletes to support the effort. Prior individual fundraising efforts from Zico and Paulo Roberto Falcao successfully accumulated millions in donations.

Securing Vaccines

In April 2021, Club Athletico Paranaense joined others in helping Brazil fight COVID-19. The Athletico club expressed its willingness to “buy COVID-19 vaccines and make them available to fans with paid-up memberships, as well as players and officials, free of charge.”

This idea comes after the Brazilian congress allowed private sectors to purchase the vaccine. Although the club did not mention how many members it holds, estimates predict numbers of 20,000-30,000 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement, the Athletico club also called on other soccer clubs to help Brazil in its battle against COVID-19.

Bolsonaro’s failure to adequately protect the country’s citizens from the impacts of the virus means Brazil now takes the title for the Latin American country with the highest number of pandemic-induced deaths. In order to assist a country in desperation, Brazilian soccer players are coming together to support the fight against COVID-19 in Brazil, standing in solidarity with the Brazilian people.

– Zineb Williams
Photo: Unsplash

Soccer to Combat Poverty
A 5-year-old boy named Alex* stood on the dirt patch in San Pedro, Belize, and punched a fellow soccer player. He had caused a lot of fights in the previous weeks. Katherine Lord, a volunteer with More Than Fútbol, pulled him aside. Lord had just begun running a soccer extracurricular program for The Holy Cross School, the poorest school in Ambergris Caye. She explained to him that the school would not tolerate violence at practice. She told him that he was a natural leader, so if he chose not to fight anymore, he could be team captain. In just a few weeks, Alex began helping her run drills, organize his teammates and even break up fights. For Alex, this after-school soccer program offered a safe space to play and have fun. For years, More than Fútbol has been effectively using soccer to combat poverty in Belize.

More Than Fútbol

Founded by Ali Andrzejewski in 2008, More Than Fútbol is using soccer to combat poverty in Belize. Every year, the organization sends volunteers to San Pedro, Belize for a few weeks. After these few weeks, everyone but one volunteer returns home. This volunteer runs the soccer program and teaches empowerment classes at The Holy Cross School. More Than Fútbol also works in Nicaragua.

In spring 2018, Lord volunteered to stay in San Pedro for five months. She volunteered with More Than Fútbol for four years prior to living in Belize. While there, she taught empowerment, English and math classes and ran the after-school soccer program.

Child Poverty in Belize

In Belize, 58% of children live in poverty. UNICEF estimates that 60% of children do not have access to at least one of proper drinking water, sanitation, housing, nutrition or education. One study from UNICEF found that 19% of children in Belize experience growth stunting due to poverty and 27% of schools do not have clean water.

Poverty in San Pedro, a town in Ambergris Caye, is a serious problem. Many students, like Alex, who attend The Holy Cross School do not have access to electricity or running water at home. Sewage and trash line the streets so acutely that wood boards must cover the roads so that no one steps in the waste. Despite the fact that Ambergris Caye generates about 18% of the country’s GDP from tourism, the island does not receive most of this money. This makes the residents unable to escape poverty.

The Link Between Poverty, Stress and Violence

Poverty, stress and violence all correlate. Children in poverty are seven times more likely to self-harm and become involved in violence. According to the American Psychological Association, “poorer children and teens are… at greater risk for several negative outcomes such as poor academic achievement, school dropout, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socioemotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays.” Children in poverty are more likely to have emotional or behavioral concerns such as anxiety, depression, aggression, conduct disorder, difficulty getting along with others and self-esteem issues. Children in poverty are also more likely to experience violence from a young age, which predisposes them to violent behaviors in the future. Parents living in poverty may also experience chronic stress or depression, which can cause them to parent in more severe ways, leading to worse socioemotional outcomes for children.

In Belize, estimates determined that 65% of children (ages 1-14) experience physical and psychological abuse or aggression at home. The Holy Cross School estimates that 90% of the children attending experience abuse from caregivers either physically, psychologically or sexually. Lord explained to The Borgen Project that “there’s a lot of fighting, especially among lower-income people. And it’s just because that’s how kids are treated by their parents. And it’s… I don’t want to say cultural– maybe systematic…. And so the kids would always be… fist fighting with each other and throwing rocks at each other.”

How Sports Can Reduce Stress and Fight Against Poverty

Despite the fact that the children often fought, Lord realized that soccer helped lower their aggression, improve their behaviors and their levels of happiness. Her first-hand experience influenced her to believe in the power of using soccer to combat poverty in Belize. The World Bank has found that empirically speaking, sports can help increase educational outcomes, empower players and encourage leadership. Playing sports can also alleviate anger and frustration and promote happiness.

Furthermore, sports can positively impact children’s development and goal-making. According to the University of Edinburgh, sports “matter because they are proven to boost educational capability, confidence, mental health and other learning skills that help not just education levels but working and social lives.” Sports can also benefit international development.

Other Organizations

Lord’s experience volunteering with More Than Fútbol is unique. However, there are many other organizations working to combat poverty in Belize and other parts of the world through soccer. For example, Street Football World works to empower communities and build soccer programs and stadiums. Love Futbol finances stadiums and supports the surrounding community. The work of these organizations is invaluable because sports can help empower children emotionally and socially. Like Katherine expressed to The Borgen Project, no matter the environment the kids come from, allowing them a space to grow and feel safe and supported can positively impact their moods, behaviors and self-confidence. Overall, it is clear that using sports to combat poverty in Belize is crucial because they can change children’s lives for the better and act as a source of international development.

* Name of Alex changed for privacy

– Sophie Shippe
Photo: Flickr

Kick for Trade, Teaching Life Skills with Football in Developing CountriesThe International Trade Center and UEFA Foundation for Children have partnered up to teach children entrepreneurial skills through football in developing countries. This initiative was brought on by a need for children in poverty to overcome external hiring factors, such as skills mismatch or a lack of financing. Worldwide, 59 million teens and children are unemployed and almost 136 million are employed yet still living in poverty. Football was chosen as a conduit to address these issues because it is increasingly recognized as a sport used for community development and to address social issues. This program, Kick for Trade, uses the sport to teach life skills in developing countries, including Angola, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

Kick for Trade

The Kick for Trade curriculum was unveiled in August 2020 at UEFA headquarters to honor International Youth Day. The program had initial pilot projects in Gambia and Guinea in 2019, and after its success, additional projects were planned to take place in Angola, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Unfortunately, COVID-19 derailed Kick for Trade’s plans in these countries. However, the program is expected to be implemented as soon as it is safe to do so.

Once implemented, the program will feature trained life-skills coaches who will teach 11 sessions each on youth employability and entrepreneurship. The goal of the program is to teach skills like leadership and teamwork to children through football in developing countries. Specifically, the life skills of problem-solving, creative thinking, communication, interpersonal skills, empathy and resilience. The lessons require minimal equipment, making the program accessible for any child who would like to learn life skills in order to be more employable.

Kick for Trade’s Projects in Developing Countries

Kick for Trade is expected to teach 1,500 children employment skills throughout the selected countries. UEFA has helped one million children worldwide through its various programs since its creation five years ago. These programs span 100 countries, reaching all five continents. The specific Kick for Trade programs in developing countries will highlight different targets depending on the country.

Uganda was chosen for the gender equality project that uses football in developing countries to reduce women poverty and improve education for girls. More than 75% of Uganda’s population is below the age of 30, and the youth unemployment rate is 13.3%. This program is an effort to decrease the gender gap to decrease unemployment levels for youth.

Angola was chosen for UEFA’s project on health improvement and crime prevention for at-risk children. Communicable diseases account for 50% of deaths in Angola. Teaching children proper health techniques is an effort to lower this statistic.

The UEFA saw that Cameroon could benefit from its ethnic integration project. This project focuses on using football in rural areas to promote peace. Since 2016, Cameroon has experienced protests and violence as a result of the division between the Anglophones and the Francophones. Encouraging peace between children will hopefully help to end this violence.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo will be home to Kick for Trade’s project that aids children living on the streets. This project aims to intervene as early as possible to provide homeless children with the assistance they need. In the capital city of Kinshasa, almost 30,000 children under the age of 18 are homeless. Homeless children are often recruited by law enforcement officials to disrupt political protests, causing them injury or death. They are also often taken advantage of by adults and older children. This program works to take vulnerable children off the streets and provide them with a safe place to live, improving their quality of life and future prospects.

These programs will be rolled out once it’s determined safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, these programs will continue to positively benefit children looking for employment in developing countries.

—Rae Brozovich
Photo: Flickr

soccer players practicing philanthropy
Soccer, or football players to most of the world, are most often recognized for their impressive work on the field. However, professional soccer players have a lot of potential for impactful good off the field. This, due to their status, influence and financial capabilities. Listed here are five soccer players (part of FIFA) who have a powerful impact on the lives of impoverished peoples. Importantly, their reach extends throughout the world. These are great examples of professional soccer players practicing philanthropy.

5 FIFA Soccer Players Practicing Philanthropy

  1. Lionel Messi is an Argentine footballer who plays forward and captains La Liga club, Barcelona and the Argentinian national team. In response to COVID-19, Messi has made a wide variety of contributions through his organization, The Leo Messi Foundation. He began his foundation in 2007. Its mission focuses on helping kids and teenagers using health, education and sports initiatives. Messi has donated €1 million, split between Hospital Clinic in Catalunya and a health center in Argentina. Additionally, he gave €200,000 to UNICEF projects in Kenya. As a result, more than 2,000 citizens gained access to clean water.
  2. Mohammed Salah is a winger for the English Premier League club, Liverpool and the Egyptian national team. Salah has donated thousands of tons of food and fresh meat to his hometown in Egypt, to help families who have been impacted by COVID-19. Also, Salah donated to the Bassioun General Hospital. Moreover, he (along with his father) gave land to establish a sewage treatment plant in his hometown. With this effort, he hopes to provide a stable source of clean water to the region. Furthermore, Salah has been selected as the first ambassador for the U.N. Instant Network Schools, which connects refugees and host countries’ students with online education opportunities.
  3. Sadio Mane is a forward for the English Premier League club, Liverpool. Mane is funding the construction of a hospital for the village of Bambali, Senegal, where he was born. He took inspiration to do so after losing his father to a stomach illness, with no hospital in the village available to help him. Considering Senegal’s inhabitants, 33% are below the poverty line and Mane’s contributions to schools, hospitals and mosques in his home village are helping improve the quality of life for individuals living there.
  4. Mesut Ozil is a German footballer who plays as a midfielder for the English Premier League club, Arsenal. It is reported that he has paid for more than 1,000 operations for children across the world, food for 100,000 refugees in Turkey and Syria and is an ambassador for the children’s charity — Rays of Sunshine, in England.
  5. Jermain Defoe is currently a striker for the Scottish Premiership club, Rangers. He created the Jermain Defoe Foundation in 2013 to support at-risk youth in his family’s hometown, Caribbean, St. Lucia. His foundation’s mission is to help kids who are vulnerable and in need in the U.K., the Caribbean Islands and Northern Island. His grandparents grew up in St. Lucia and his foundation has worked on several projects in St. Lucia. The foundation’s work includes the refurbishment of the Soufriere Primary School after a hurricane,  donation of shoes to the Daigen School and the financial backing of The Rainbow Children’s Home.

Good Work: On and Off the Pitch

In addition to their work on the football pitch, these soccer players practicing philanthropy are doing excellent work for humanitarian missions and initiatives.  The contributions of these soccer players in healthcare, education and nutrition are improving the lives of the individuals affected by their initiatives worldwide.

Hannah Bratton
Photo: Flickr

Soccer Fighting World Hunger
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. As one of the most accessible games to play and watch, billions of people enjoy soccer. However, few are familiar with the impacts of soccer off the field. The sport has accepted an integral role in ending world hunger through its clubs, players and governing bodies. Many casual soccer fans are familiar with Marcus Rashford’s role in restoring over £120 million worth of food aid to underprivileged English citizens, a feat that is nothing short of remarkable. However, one cannot merely relegate soccer’s impact to the developed world: soccer is fighting world hunger, especially in developing nations.

Governing Bodies

Many larger soccer groups have committed to combating world hunger. One prominent example is the Professional Football Against Hunger campaign, which the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) co-founded and signed. The EPFL represents 27 member leagues constituting over 900 soccer clubs across Europe. This campaign reached millions of fans, generating record-breaking donations to food-aid projects. In addition, the organization created a recurring event named Match Day Against Hunger, in which over 300 clubs played in matches dedicated to raising awareness for world hunger. This awareness campaign helped put world hunger at the forefront of the soccer community’s mind, in addition to encouraging action from individuals and clubs alike.

Clubs

Soccer clubs themselves also play a massive role in fighting child and family hunger. Much like how soccer clubs in England support their regional communities, soccer clubs in developing nations also assist local populations. One gleaming example is the Everton Uganda Football Academy. This facility has committed itself to aiding the communities from which it recruits players, most recently donating food and medical supplies to 50 families. Fortunately, Everton is not an anomaly: many clubs in underdeveloped countries provide food assistance, particularly to the families of their budding players. The club cannot expect players’ and prospects’ best performance if they do not have adequate nourishment; thus, there is an incentive to provide for them. Many of the world’s best current soccer players – including Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Gabriel Jesus – were food-insecure during their childhoods. Soccer programs provide not only food to young players, but also an opportunity to follow their dreams and prosper.

Players

Many of the world’s best professional soccer athletes have had humble beginnings. As a result, some of the most dynamic advocacy for hunger relief has originated from the players themselves. One example of an avid advocate for fighting world hunger is Kaká, a former AC Milan and Real Madrid star. Kaká became the youngest United Nations World Food Programme Ambassador at age 22, serving as the main endorser and contributor to the Fill the Cup campaign that ultimately fed over 20 million undernourished schoolchildren in nearly 80 developing countries. Kaká’s influence not only garnered millions of dollars to save the lives of millions but also encouraged many children to remain in school.

Colleges

In the United States, college soccer programs have also answered the call to fight against world hunger. While university soccer teams are largely underfunded – and thus unable to make large donations to charity – they are often extremely committed to issues surrounding world hunger. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s men’s and women’s soccer programs, for instance, sent an incredible 285,000 meals to Nicaragua to aid underprivileged families and youth. While monetary funds are hard to come by for many college athletics programs, the University of North Carolina powerfully demonstrates how these programs can donate time and money to do what they can in aiding others.

As the most popular sport in the world, soccer has nearly infinite influence. Especially for a massive issue like global poverty where it is difficult to recognize the pockets of solutions that some are implementing, it is essential to acknowledge how soccer is fighting world hunger. Fighting world hunger is not a task for food-aid specific groups alone, and soccer programs worldwide are helping to lead the charge.

– Keagan James
Photo: Piqsels

Soccer in Africa
The start of soccer in Africa traces back to the 1800s, during the period of European imperialism. British soldiers and missionaries introduced the game, and it quickly gained traction in mission schools. The first official game occurred in 1862.

During the 1880s and 1890s, organized soccer teams began popping up in Southern Africa. Africa’s oldest surviving soccer club, Ghana’s Cape Coast Excelsior, started in 1903. The game continued to grow in popularity over the following century. African countries joined FIFA, the international soccer association, as they gained independence from colonial rule. South Africa made history in 2010, becoming the first African country to host a World Cup.

Soccer in Africa Today

Many commonly consider soccer the most popular sport in Africa. Rugby and cricket are also popular throughout the continent. Additionally, basketball has been gaining popularity; the emergence of Cameroon born basketball stars Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam helped create a basketball fanbase. Nonetheless, soccer reigns supreme as Africa’s favorite sport.

Although it is the top sport in Africa, soccer abroad captivates many African fans. The English Premier League is a mainstay on pub televisions. Despite the numerous African teams, elite players often leave their homelands to play in Europe’s top leagues. African born players have made their mark on Europe’s soccer leagues. Most notably are Samuel Eto’o, Yaya Touré, Didier Drogba and the current Liberian President, George Weah.

Some of Africa’s most famous players have used their fame and wealth to give back to their home countries. For example, Didier Drogba, a legend in the Premier League, is an influential figure in Cote D’Ivoire. Drogba used his platform to help end the Ivorian civil war in 2007. In 2015, Drogba built a hospital in his hometown, Abidjan, using money from an endorsement deal.

Soccer Academies

The population of Africa is incredibly young. About 42% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is aged 14 or younger. This is good news for soccer leagues who are anxious to recruit new players.

Soccer academies are opening all over the continent. In Ghana, the Right to Dream academy is a nonprofit with the goal of giving young athletes the opportunity to play at a high level. According to its founder, Tom Vernon, “When a child enrolls at Right to Dream, their lifetime earning potential increases 23 times.” Upon graduation, students receive the equivalent to a Ghanaian high school degree. To date, Right to Dream students have accessed over $40 million in educational scholarships.

In Right to Dream’s 22 years of operation, more than 30 former students have played soccer professionally. For those who do not move on to professional soccer, many find attending college is an option. So far, 51 Right to Dream students have received full scholarships for schools in the U.S. and U.K.

LEAD Monrovia Football Academy is another notable African soccer academy. Rather than creating soccer stars, LEAD MFA focuses on social and educational development. The soccer academy is located in Liberia. Unfortunately, 58% of Liberian children aged between 15 and 24 have not completed their primary education. LEAD MFA uses soccer as an incentive to keep its students enrolled and enjoying school.

Africa has a rapidly growing population. By 2050, projections determine that the country will be home to over 2.5 billion people; estimates predict that a quarter of the world’s population will be living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Thankfully, the growing number of academies will provide a path for young Africans to play the game they love while furthering their horizons off the field.

Matthew Beach
Photo: Pixabay

UNICEF Soccer AidFor over a decade, UNICEF has hosted its annual Soccer Aid, a charity soccer match featuring both professional and celebrity players to raise money for keeping kids around the world happy, healthy and safe. This year, the match was held in London on June 16, and raised a record-breaking £6,774,764 ($8,577,528.70 USD) in one night alone and £1,000,000 more than last year. The UK public, ITV and STV users all contributed, and the UK government matched each donation up to £3,000,000 to defend play for every child.

Helping Sierra Leone and Zambia

The money raised from the match will support the work of UNICEF to ensure that over 80,000 children in Sierra Leone and Zambia can have a childhood of play. The funding will help to provide lifesaving food, vaccinations, clean water, support for caring for mothers and babies and protect children from violence, exploitation, and abuse.

Sierra Leone’s under-five mortality rate is in the 2nd percentile, having one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. The many causes of death in children are preventable. Most deaths are due to nutritional deficiencies, pneumonia, diarrhoeal diseases, anemia, malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Some of the attributable factors include limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, poor feeding and hygienic practices, and limited access to quality health services.

Zambia is a country with many adolescents. 53 percent of the population is under 18 years old, and many of these children–45.4 percent–are affected by extreme poverty. Almost 65 percent of children in rural Zambia are affected by three or more deprivations: access to nutrition, education, health, water sanitation, adequate housing, and physical and emotional abuse. While the infant mortality rate improved by 37 percent between 2007 and 2014, it is still in the 25th percentile. However, with the help of UNICEF Soccer Aid, these conditions can be improved.

UNICEF’s Impact

UNICEF has worked in 190 countries and territories over 70 years to fight for the lives of children around the world. Through their projects, including child protection and inclusion, child survival, education, emergency relief, gender discrimination, innovation, supply and logistics, and research and analysis, the organization saves the lives of nearly 3,000,000 each year.

UNICEF believes in the power of play and the joy of a carefree childhood. However, millions of children around the world are unable to be included in this objective due to disease, conflict, hunger and poverty.
Through play, children are able to learn how to interact with their peers and learn abstract concepts. Just 15 minutes of play can spark thousands of connections in a baby’s brain, and playing before they enter school has an impact on how they will perform.

Since its first match in 2006, UNICEF Soccer Aid has raised more than £35,000,000 and through projects funded by Soccer Aid and the UK government, they have improved the lives of 2,000,000 children and 903,000 pregnant women.

Over the last 13 years, UNICEF Soccer Aid has been able to change the lives of children by helping them reach their full potential. By bringing people together to watch a match and encourage donations, they are able to change lives in many in parts of the world.

– Alexia Carvajalino
Photo: Unsplash

Sports for South African Girls
The importance of participation in sports for South African girls is pivotal to the long-term success of not only the individual lives of young women but for the country as a whole. South Africa produces talented Olympic athletes, such as Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk, and has a love of soccer, rugby and cricket in addition to track and field, cycling and many others. Irrespective of this continued investment of time, energy and money into national sports, women continue to be underrepresented and receive the least amount of support as athletes. For example, at professional levels, the nation’s three most popular sports – soccer, rugby and cricket – have yet to establish high-profile professional leagues for women.

According to the most recent study conducted by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, of the Olympic athletes receiving support, only nine out of 30 are women. Out of the 20 coaches who are working with these Olympic athletes, only three are women.

South Africa was one of the first countries to adopt The Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport, a set of laws passed to increase women’s participation in sports. In addition, the country passed the National Sport and Recreation Amendment Act to remedy inequalities in sport and recreation in South Africa by requiring federations to make necessities available for women and disabled people to participate at the top levels of sports. Despite these efforts, sports and gender equality in South Africa has not yet been achieved.

Why It Matters

For young women, equal representation of female athletes is important because it can positively influence their desire to compete in sports and seek the benefits which they provide. People can only believe what they see, so more work needs to be done surrounding media coverage and daily exemplification. Sports not only promote physical health and wellness, but they also teach discipline, dedication, determination and teamwork. These learned skills are important for application in life beyond sports and help create future female leaders.

Participation in sports provides students with the opportunity to socialize with their peers, promotes students’ health, improves physical fitness, increases academic performance and provides a sense of relaxation. In spite of these benefits, participation in sports for South African girls peaks between the ages of 10 to 13 years but then declines until the age of 18.

A study done in the rural province of Limpopo, South Africa found that 101 female students from 17 to 24 years old did not participate in sports because of five common barriers. These included: “I don’t like the dress code,” “lack of energy,” “lack of family support,” “family commitments” and “not in my culture.” Dress code remains a major barrier to participation in sports among girls in rural areas. In particular, Xhosa and Tsonga women will not wear sports attire like pants or shorts because they do not consider it culturally unacceptable.

Several factors influence the level of participation. One can break these factors down into structural, intrapersonal and interpersonal constraints. Structural factors refer to a lack of facilities, time constraints or financial resources. Intrapersonal constraints refer to the psychological states of individuals. Interpersonal constraints include a lack of partners or friends.

A Lack of energy was also a barrier which could be caused by the reduction of physical activity participation in physical education in schools, but exercise can actually increase energy levels. Lack of family support revealed that females without encouragement or support from their families to participate in school sports are less likely to participate in them moving forward.

U.N. Women and the Promotion of Female Empowerment

Systematically ingrained cultural beliefs, like dress code, are some of the reasons for a lack of female participation in sports. If these beliefs can be dismantled on a small, everyday level there is an ability to create more widespread acceptance across South Africa.

That is where organizations such as U.N. Women and Grassroot Soccer come in. The U.N. Women’s goal is to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women in developing countries. These organizations aim to set global standards for achieving gender equality and work with governments and civil society to design laws, policies and programs that ensure the standards are not only beneficial to women and girls worldwide, but effectively implemented as well. One of their many goals includes increasing female participation in sports as a means to fulfill four pillars.

  1. Women lead, participate in and benefit equally from governance systems.
  2. Women have income security, decent work and economic autonomy.
  3. All women and girls live a life free from all forms of violence.
  4. Women and girls contribute to and have greater influence in building sustainable peace and resilience, and benefit equally from the prevention of natural disasters and conflicts and humanitarian action.

Grassroot Soccer

Grassroot Soccer is just one example of the work U.N. Women is investing in. This program is a grantee of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. Grassroot Soccer uses the power of soccer to encourage young people to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS and to prevent violence against women and girls.

In 2009, it created the SKILLZ Street program in South Africa to specifically target and address the needs of adolescent girls who are at a higher risk of contracting HIV and AIDS than males. Fast forward to 2014 and 2015, almost 3,000 girls from the ages of 10 to 14 years old graduated from the program.

Many of these girls are from townships, a term used to refer to the underdeveloped and racially segregated urban areas reserved for nonwhites in the Apartheid era. Township residents have a lack of access to basic sewerage, adequate roads, electricity, clean water, education and overexposure to gangs and gang violence. The young women participating in the SKILLZ Street Program range from Soweto and Alexandra townships in Johannesburg and Khayelitsha township in Cape Town.

Grassroot Soccer’s Managing Director, James Donald, explains the importance for South African female participation in sports saying, “For us, sport…means we can build relationships with children in a safe space that they are proud of participating in.” He goes on to explain that “[it] also provides a plethora of ready images, metaphors and analogies that children can relate to. Soccer, in particular, is a powerful way to challenge norms and stereotypes around gender.”

The knowledge surrounding the importance of participation in sports for South African girls needs to be more widespread in order to improve the long-term success of impressionable young women in this still developing country. An investment in organizations such as Grassroot Soccer is pivotal to aid women to go on to become confident future leaders who can set good examples for generations of South African girls to come.

– Meredith Breda
Photo: Flickr