Nelson Mandela once said, “sport has the power to change the world.” If that’s true, the four billion soccer fans around the globe today hold the greatest amount of power. Soccer enjoys a popularity level almost double that of the next most popular sport.
Inherent in that popularity is a responsibility to give back, to use that influence to impact some of those who hold the sport in the highest esteem — the world’s poor. In truth, soccer and poverty often exist together, but poverty is the unwanted relative that has overstayed its welcome.
Soccer’s Best Pitch
Soccer and poverty may meet on level ground, but some organizations dig their cleats into the earth, and find traction against a familiar foe. Franco Silva — who created the organization Kizazi which fights poverty at its root through micro loans furnished through the purchase of soccer balls — understands that soccer not only unites, but for many, forms identity.
“When people are young, we tend to tie our identities—who we are—to what we do, to what we’re good at. We define ourselves with external things,” he said.
What happens when those external things cease to be? For many people living in developing countries, especially youth who have difficulty finding jobs, the ennui of the day-to-day necessitates a healthy outlet.
A Healthy Outlet
In Tanzania, that outlet is a football (soccer) program called Lengo, which provides player sponsorship and positive role models that ensure continuation of education and enough capital for families to start small businesses; in other words, a positive step in breaking the cycle of poverty.
In Uganda, the nonprofit Soccer Impact Uganda focuses on the development needs of impoverished communities. What starts as an activity that brings communities together soon snowballs into long-term projects like:
- installing reserve water systems
- finding alternative sources of energy
- providing medical care
- delivering textbooks and other educational materials, and
- helping with construction and renovation projects.
Halfway around the world from Uganda, the Mexican Soccer Federation launched the “11 Plays for Health” to promote healthy habits in vulnerable communities based on a similarly named strategy that parts of Africa have already successfully implemented.
The power of soccer has extended to the revolutionary in places like Cairo, Egypt, where the cheers of a football tournament can drown out the angry noise of violent political protests.
In fact, soccer and poverty go so hand-in-hand that an actual tournament exists called the Homeless World Cup. The foundation was created in 2003 and now hosts teams from over 75 countries, all of whose citizens have faced homelessness and social marginalization in one form or another.
Other Sports that have Joined the Fight
At the very least, sports initiatives are doing their part to oust poverty. From Nairobi, Kenya, where youth meet weekly to do yoga, to Jakarta, Indonesia, where a badminton tournament strives to instill leadership skills and confidence in a nation’s youth, a war has been waged between sports and poverty.
At the heart of this war, grass roots initiatives and innovation take command. Soccer and poverty both cling to desperation, but a new front line stands ready to strike.
– Daniel Staesser