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Sports have always been integral in society. They serve as an outlet for many to escape their daily troubles and exist as a way to unify groups of people. Athletes in modern times are lauded for their skill and their lavish lifestyles. However, the truth of the matter is that many of these competitors did not grow up with the privileges they have earned today. These are five athletes that rose from poverty.

5 Athletes Who Rose From Poverty

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo: Hailed as one of the greatest soccer players of all time, Ronaldo did not have an easy upbringing. Ronaldo was born in a poor neighborhood in Fungal, Portugal in 1985. His father was an equipment manager at a local soccer club while his mother was a cook and a housekeeper. Ronaldo did not grow up with much but grew fond of soccer because of his father’s profession. After being recruited by a local boys’ soccer club, Ronaldo left his family to go to Lisbon at the age of 12. Despite being frequently ostracized due to his thick accent, Ronaldo kept surging forward. At age 16, Manchester United signed Ronaldo to a more than $14 million contract. This was the largest ever given to a player his age. Ronaldo went on to win a plethora of awards and accolades for his feats in soccer. Outside of soccer, Ronaldo has been extremely charitable. In 2015, Ronaldo donated more than $6 million to help those impacted by the earthquake in Nepal. Ronaldo also worked to improve medical facilities in Portugal. His net worth currently sits at $460 million, making Ronaldo the wealthiest of these five athletes who rose from poverty.
  2. Jose Aldo: A renowned UFC fighter, Aldo is another athlete that vanquished the detrimental effects of poverty. Aldo was born into a poor household in the city of Manaus in Brazil. Aldo’s father was a bricklayer while his mother was a housewife. Love tied the family of six together, but that took a turn when his mother and father split when Aldo was young. Aldo stayed with his father. Frequent street fights prompted Aldo to learn capoeira. Despite being talented, capoeira classes were draining his finances, so he moved on to pursue jiu-jitsu with his mentor, Marcio Pontes. At age 17, Aldo went to Rio de Janeiro without a dime to his name. There were days when he had little to no food, but this did not disrupt his resolve. Aldo currently holds the most wins in UFC and WEC featherweight history. He is a two-time UFC Featherweight Champion and one-time WEC Featherweight Champion. Outside of the ring, Aldo also routinely performs charity work and donates funds to help those in need. In 2015, Aldo played in a charity soccer match in his home country to raise food for people in need; it was immensely successful.
  3. Kassim Ouma: A former professional boxer, Kassim Ouma has, perhaps, the most appalling story out of these five athletes who rose from poverty. Born into extreme poverty in Uganda in 1978, Ouma’s life was already very difficult. At the age of five, he was kidnapped from his family and forced to join the National Resistance Army. Ouma was trained to do horrific things that no child should have to bear. Ouma did not see his family for three years. In 1998, Ouma was considered to have deserted the Ugandan army because of his venture to the U.S. to compete in a boxing tournament. Ouma pursued boxing to make money and ensure that his family never has to share his experiences. Ouma went on to win the IBF world junior middleweight title in 2004. He serves as an activist for global issues surrounding poverty despite being unable to physically return to Uganda. Furthermore, in 2006, Ouma started a charity called Natabonic Incorporated to help the needy in Uganda.
  4. Yasiel Puig: Surrounded by poverty and suboptimal living conditions, Yasiel Puig had longed to go to the United States and play baseball from an early age. Puig was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba. Puig played baseball for Cuba, but he only earned $17 per month due to the impoverished conditions as a product of the Castro dictatorship. As a result, Puig became desperate to go to the U.S. and play baseball there. In June 2012, when he was successfully smuggled to Mexico by an illicit group with ties to the drug cartel, Los Zetas. Through negotiations with the president of two Miami companies, Raul Pacheco, Puig was released and went on to play for the Dodgers. In the field, Puig founded the Wild Horse Children Foundation to inspire children in less affluent communities and ensure that they do not struggle with the same things that he did.
  5. Bibiano Fernandes: The last of these five athletes who rose from poverty is Bibiano Fernandes. His resilience can be attributed to his early life struggles. Like Jose Aldo, Fernandes was born in Manaus, Brazil. His mother died when Fernandes was seven years old and his father left his five kids because he could not provide for them. After scavenging and begging on the streets, Fernandes went hunting for food in the Amazon forest. He and his siblings stayed there for several years. Fernandes returned to the city after contracting an illness that nearly killed him. He discovered jiu-jitsu while washing car windows at a streetlight near a dojo. After some assistance from a friend, Fernandes was able to partake in lessons at the dojo and soon became a top student. He evolved into one of the best jiu-jitsu fighters in the world, winning three championships. He has since taken up MMA fighting with a Canadian mentor.

Sports are an avenue for athletes to get their stories heard. These five athletes who rose from poverty are a small sample of athletes who have endured a significant amount to attain success. As acclaimed Olympian, Emil Zatopek once said, “An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head”.

Jai Shah
Photo: Flickr

Sports Programs Alleviating Poverty
Sports are not an easy ticket out of poverty, but sports programs for impoverished youth can provide skills, support and guidance that can strengthen individuals and communities. Developing physical, social and emotional health are just a few of the benefits that children can reap from participation in quality sports programs. Below are five youth sports programs alleviating poverty worldwide.

Five Youth Sports Programs Alleviating Poverty Worldwide

  1. Tiempo de Juego: Tiempo de Juego in Colombia considers the game of soccer to be a tool capable of transforming communities, developing the skills of boys and girls and inspiring them to become agents of change. Tiempo de Juego takes an academic approach to the game of soccer, identifying three areas of development: technical skills, psychosocial development and a pedagogical foundation. Through the common bond of soccer, Tiempo de Juego allies with seven local schools as well as families to bring positive social opportunities to the lives of community members. It even supports small business endeavors of families who provide goods and services such as screen-printed t-shirts and vending for soccer events.
  2. Line Up, Live Up: Line Up, Live Up is a life skill curriculum with various sports from martial arts to volleyball. The Youth Crime Prevention through Sports Initiative sprang from the Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declarative and is taking roots in Palestine and Central Asia. In addition to physical exercise and teamwork, Line Up, Live Up helps kids learn life skills for resisting social pressures of drug use and delinquency. It also helps students with issues such as anxiety and communication with peers. Line Up, Live Up forms its basis from empirical research from the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime and also the understanding that risk factors in the lives of youth can be reduced through meaningful intervention. The belief that actual changes in attitudes and behaviors can take place drives the organization.
  3. Love Fútbol:  Love Fútbol emerged in 2006 after Drew Chafetz founded it on the platform that community-driven energy toward social change could happen on a universal passion for soccer. An avid soccer player who traveled widely, Drew noticed the unsafe and unsupervised conditions in which impoverished kids often played. Drew developed the philosophy that every child has the right to play soccer and he built that dream into fruition in a collaborative way.The first program started in Guatemala before expanding to Brazil. Each place Love Fútbol goes, the community plays a vital role in building the field and creating the program, thereby instilling their ownership in the process. Partnering with global sponsors, Love Fútbol provides funding for raw materials. In Colombia, Love Fútbol partnered with Tiempo de Juego that had the experience and the vision of implementing soccer programs in its own community but lacked the budget. Love Fútbol was able to help make its dreams a reality. The whole community built the field with the help of over 100 volunteers and 1,500 hours of labor. In another location in Mexico, the organization constructed a soccer field on the former site of a factory, bringing revitalization to the community. With well-maintained fields and supervised programs, impoverished participants can build healthier and more productive lives. Love Fútbol programs are growing throughout Latin America and these sports programs are alleviating poverty successfully.
  4. Waves for Change: Waves for Change is a unique program on this list, as it does not involve a ball game. Waves for Change is a surfing program for youth that face poor infrastructure, violence and poverty in Capetown, South Africa. Tim Conibear founded it in 2009 because he recognized that surfing was a great way to reach at-risk youth who would not otherwise have access to such activities. Primarily a mental health foundation, the program addresses the psychological and emotional well-being of kids who often experience trauma. Waves for Change teams with mental health professionals to address the issues of child mental health. Program leaders note an improvement in self-care and participation in school for those who take part in the program. Kids who grow up in gang culture are looking for risk and surfing can fulfill that need in a positive way. The organization is able to employ over 40 coaches who are former participants in the program. The activity instills pride, personal responsibility and a sense of self-worth.
  5. Cricket Program: Daniel Juarez, an accomplished cricket player in Argentina, founded Cricket Program. He established this program for the youth living in the most dangerous and impoverished slums of Argentina. Caacupe Community Center offers the cricket program. Pope Francis, formerly cardinal to Buenos Aires, is a benefactor as well as Rev. Pepe Di Paola who people know for his anti-crime work in area slums. Through the sport, kids receive an education and learn values. Some participants have developed their skills to such a high level as to qualify for national-level youth cricket teams. The organizers believe cricket provides a foundation that participants can carry with them throughout life. It even received a Best Spirit Award from the International Cricket Council.

Children worldwide have a natural drive and passion to play sports and these five sports programs are alleviating poverty worldwide. Poverty can inhibit access to good equipment, safe fields and quality instruction, but through innovative programs that engage community members and provide structure and funding, kids can experience the joy of play as well as build valuable life skills. The confidence gained can nurture lives and empower families in their rise from poverty.

Susan Niz
Photo: Flickr

Refugee AthletesPreceding the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) announced that a team of 10 refugee athletes would be allowed to compete in the games and carry the Olympic flag. The team was called Team Refugee Olympic Athletes and was treated just like any other Olympic team.

By allowing the refugee athletes to be a part of the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the IOC is hoping to give hope to refugees everywhere.

“Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic Anthem,” said IOC President Thomas Bach in a news release. “They will have a home together with all the other 11,000 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees in the Olympic Village.”

While these athletes now have a chance to be a part of a team in uncertain times, Visa, the world’s largest payments network, saw that there was an even bigger opportunity for comradery. Team Visa is a network of Olympic and Paralympic athletes who are sponsored by Visa.

In July 2016, all 10 refugee Olympic athletes signed on to become a part of Team Visa. Through the partnership, the refugee athletes are supported in their athletic journey’s and in turn, help Visa to promote a culture of acceptance.

According to Chris Curtin, Visa’s Chief Marketing Innovation and Brand Officer, the perseverance the refugee Olympic athletes is inspiring not only Visa, but the world. The bravery that allowed the athletes to get to the Olympic games and march with the Olympic flag directly embodies Visa’s belief in acceptance for everyone, everywhere.

While the Rio Games proved a success for the refugee athletes and Team Visa overall, neither party shows sign of stopping there. On July 9, 2017, the IOC confirmed that a Refugee Olympic Team will compete at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Team Visa’s involvement with the athletes has not yet been confirmed, but a source says they are looking to extend relationships.

“We are committed to sustaining our message of acceptance worldwide and are exploring longer term partnership opportunities with the IOC on their Olympic Solidarity Initiatives, and with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on their refugee development programs,” a spokesperson told The Wrap. “We are also exploring contract renewals for select Team Visa athletes in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”

Madeline Boeding
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Poverty
The United Nations Development Programme has recently collaborated with the top Turkish soccer club, Galatasaray Sports Club, to help promote the Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s leading poverty eradication initiative.

After winning the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup in 2000, the Turkish soccer club has kept worldwide support for its athletic ventures. With stars like Wesley Sneijder representing the team, fans of international competitions have taken their enthusiasm to the club scene. Galatasaray is able to add on an impressive domestic following with over 20 local league cup wins, and in addition, has established bases in Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul.

Four of the iconic Galatasaray players, “captain Selçuk İnan of Turkey, goalkeeper Fernando Muslera of Uruguay, Aurélien Chedjou of Cameroon, and the Netherlands’ Wesley Sneijder,” starred in a video promoting the new partnership between the football club and the UNDP. In the video, the players stress the idea of “leave no one behind” in a world where many are forgotten in poverty.

Outside of the film room, the club continues to make its mark. Along with the UNDP, “Galatasaray will raise funds for a diversity of programmes to tackle poverty, inequalities and exclusion across the world,” according to a UNDP article.  Even so, this isn’t the first Turkish soccer club that has set humanitarian goals. In 2014 and 2015, the organization assisted with the relief of flooded communities and victims of mining disasters.

Soccer unites people despite language, geographic and political barriers. The World Cup is the single most watched sporting event in the world, with over 700 million viewers watching the 2010 final. Millions of children, and even adults, admire the stars that play on their favorite teams. It’s only natural that these spotlighted individuals should take the lead in the fight against global poverty.

France’s Zinedine Zidane and Brazil’s Ronaldo are two iconic examples of soccer stars joining the fight against poverty. Last year the duo, along with many other stars such as van de Sar and Seedorf, put together the 12th annual Match Against Poverty, in conjunction with the UNDP and EUFA, the European soccer authority. The money from the tickets which cost “from €8 to €12” went to “aid specific projects in different countries dealing with difficult challenges.”

With power and wealth on the line, soccer’s role models quickly become the hopes and dreams of children all around the world. Youth most affected by poverty in countries with glorified soccer stars use the potential for glory and riches as motivation to conquer their own situations. Sometimes, the stories of players they watch are not unlike their own.

In Brazil, Adriano and Ronaldo are just two of those kids that have climbed out of poverty with their skills on the ball. A talent scout for Flamengo, a local professional club, says, “For Brazilian kids growing up in some of the world’s roughest neighborhoods, soccer is a ray of hope amid violence and poverty.” Around 800 Brazilian kids are able to escape the country and poverty with professional soccer careers, which is not many when the population size is considered.

Professional soccer careers are not the logical solution to poverty, but the sport is promoting poverty’s eradication in ways like Galatasaray’s public service announcement, which is in association with the Sustainable Development Goals. Soccer’s far-reaching scope and enthusiastic following can increase awareness and support for the goals of ending poverty.

Jacob Hess

Photo: Flickr

Team Africa Rising: The Opportunity For Unity
This month, five Rwandan cyclists from Team Africa Rising are set to compete in the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia. The international competition is set to take place from Sept. 19 – 27.

Team Africa Rising, formally called Team Rwanda, is comprised of professional cyclists who often serve as the world’s informal ambassadors to Rwanda and other conflict-stricken nations. Team Rwanda was founded in 2006 by American cyclist Jock Boyer in order to spread the sport of cycling and unify countries under its name.

Team Africa Rising is now comprised of over 25 of the best cyclists from Rwanda, Ethiopia and Eritrea. For these athletes, cycling can serve as a form of therapy to deal with their difficult pasts.

The team has also given African athletes the chance to compete at an international level, therefore granting them additional opportunities for sponsorship, equipment and more. One of the cyclists, Nathan Byukusenge, has qualified to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The cyclists have captured attention from the international community, as the subjects of a documentary entitled “Rising From Ashes” and the book “Land of Second Chances.”

Cycling teams provide a common, positive cause for members of the host countries to support. Team Africa Rising’s participation in the world championship provides a collective source of pride and excitement, particularly for the citizens of Rwanda.

According to Kimberly Coats, director of logistics for Team Africa Rising, the team represents unity for the country.

“The team is made up of people from both sides [of the 1994 genocide,]” she was quoted in the Richmond Times Dispatch. “But today we’re all Rwandans and it’s really started to develop this national unity, this national pride. This team is a thing for the country to rally around.”

For the past 21 years, Rwanda has focused on healing itself from the historic genocide and growing together as one Rwandan society. One of the major struggles in developing in the wake of such a mass atrocity has been in providing the international community another way to look at the country.

“You say Rwanda, you think genocide. They want you to say Rwanda (and) think cycling,” Coats said. “It’s going to take time, but it’s definitely there. We do a lot of bike tours, a lot of people come visit the team and the team has been goodwill ambassadors to show the world that Rwanda is a safe place, that the country has reconciled and that there’s peace.”

Arin Kerstein

Sources: The Guardian, Richmond Times Dispatch, Team Africa Rising, World Bicycle Relief
Photo: Google Images

Charity_Challenge
Charity Challenge is a fundraising organization that operates in a different and peculiar way than many other organizations. They raise funds for different charities through various sports events or challenges around the world.

According to their website, Charity Challenge launches more than 100 sports events or challenges each year. These events vary from mountain climbs, bike rides, sky diving, dog sledding, skiing, among others.

The organization operates in more than 30 countries, which include places like Cuba, Morocco, Italy, Peru, Bolivia, Zambia, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Nepal, Ecuador, France, UK, and others.

Moreover, Charity Challenge supports various charities around the world that vary from different categories such as children, education, environment, animals, human rights, hunger relief, international aid, and many others. The participants of the Charity Challenge events can choose the charity they want to support with their donation.

Here are 6 Charity Challenge events for different disciplines:

Dalai Lama Himalayan Trek

This is an Himalayan trekking event where participants visit India’s exiled Tibetan community. The event includes visiting the Dharamsala, where the Tibetan community and the Dalai Lama are located, Uhl River, Taragarh Palace, the Taj Mahal, the Keoladeo National Park, and Fatephur Sikri.

This trekking event is in aid of any charity the participant wants to support.

Icelandic Lava Trek

This trekking challenge is about crossing the Landmannalaugar route through a very active volcanic area in Iceland. Participants are expected walk across snowfields, set up camp, and walk on rough ground. This event includes visiting the Blue Lagoon.

This trekking event is in aid of any charity the participant wants to give his support to.

Cuban Revolution Cycle

This is a 10 day cycling challenge that consist of an expedition from the Cuban capital, Havana to Trinidad. During this 350 km ride, participants have the chance to see the Che Guevara monument in Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Sierra del Escambray.

This biking event is in aid of any charity the participant wants to support.

Cycle Machu Picchu to the Amazon

This challenge counts with a visit to Cusco and the Machu Picchu ruins. The cycling challenge starts in the ruins of Ollantaytambo following the length of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and then to the market of Pisac. From the market, the journey continues to the Andes, the village of Paucartambo, Tres Cruces, and the Amazon rainforest.

This cycling event is in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, Nicola Murray Foundation, Challenge Cancer UK, or any charity chosen by the participant.

Great Ethiopian Run

In this 10 km running event, the participants run with more than 40 thousand runners in Africa’s highest city. The challenge gives participants a chance to visit Womankind Worldwide’s project in Addis Ababa.

This running challenge is in aid of Womankind Worldwide.

Dog Sledding Challenge

This is a dog sledding event in Sweden. Participants have the opportunity to witness the Northern Lights and the local wildlife from the Swedish mountains. Finally, the participants arrive into Kiruna, a northern Swedish city that is home of the Sami, a European indigenous group.

This dog sledding challenge is in aid of any charity the participant wants to support.

There are many ways to support charities and good causes, and Charity Challenge is an adventurous and sporty way for participants to support thousands of causes around the world.

Diana Fernanda Leon

Sources: Charity Challenge 1, Charity Challenge 2, Charity Challenge 3
Photo: Bath Cats and Dogs Home

dreambig
With somewhere between 20.3 million and 25.4 million viewers and fans, there is no better stage to raise awareness and funds for an organization than the World Cup. And that is exactly what World Cup Champion Christen Press and her teammates set out to do during the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

Prior to the Women’s World Cup, Christen Press partnered with Grassroot Soccer’s campaign DreamBIG. The entire US women’s national team supported the campaign that works with youth in Africa to improve health services, build leadership and empower a stronger tomorrow.

The organization, Grassroot Soccer, uses the power of soccer to reach people in developing countries and fight against HIV. Their mission is simple: “educate, inspire and mobilize young people to stop the spread of HIV.”

By using a tool such as soccer, offer considered a universal language in its own way, Grassroot Soccer has the ability to influence countless youth and adults in developing countries that need both the education over HIV and the leadership development to put a stop to it.

Since 2002, when Grassroot Soccer was founded, they are reached over one point two million people in 40 countries. Each year the organization continues to impact approximately 100,000 people in HIV stricken areas.

Fittingly, Press and the rest of the US Women’s World Cup took it upon themselves to support the organizations movement DreamBIG; a campaign that was created for the World Cup. This specific campaign will provide funding for mentors and health services to be sent to southern Africa, thus allowing them to “live healthier lives so that they can DreamBIG.”

Over the duration of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, DreamBIG raised $87,500 thanks to the support from the U.S. women’s team. The money raised from the tournament alone will provide training, education and the chance to build leadership skills through soccer for 3,500 youth between the ages of 15 and 18.

The organization is obviously doing good work, but of all the sports, why soccer? Why a sport at all? The answer is quite simple. Soccer has and does bring people together unlike any other sport. As the largest sport in the world, it is something every nation can connect to.

Soccer fosters skills in youth that help them later lead a better, healthier life. On top of that, for youth living in large cities with high crime, drug and violence rates, sports like soccer, and organizations like Grassroot Soccer encourage youth to keep off the streets and active in healthy choices.

The world of soccer is making even larger impacts than that though.

As foreign aid for education dropped, the United Nations asked the International Association Football Federation, otherwise known as FIFA, to “institute a 0.4 percent educational tax on broadcasting and sponsorship revenues” for the 2010 Men’s World cup and the five European leagues until 2015.

Within those five years, the point four percent educational tax generated over $200 million that will be used to provide basic education to two million children.

Building personal skills and improving education through soccer is tremendous, but the power of soccer is on the verge of growing even more. A new soccer ball that utilizes the energy of kick is in the process of being tested and made available.

That sounds great, but what does it mean? It means that the energy of impact when kicking the ball would be saved within the ball. That energy could later be used to power a variety of objects anywhere from a light bulb to an appliance.

Between skills, education and energy, Grassroot Soccer is onto a new type of aid work that will bring people from all nations together to create a prosperous future. With the help of donations, volunteers and groups like the US Women’s National soccer team, Grassroots Soccer will continue to improve the lives of millions of youth.

Katherine Wyant

Sources: SB Nation, World Bank, Grassroot Soccer
Photo: World Bank

artsLast year, the U.K. Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure published a literature review that summarized research regarding poverty and its impact on people’s engagement with culture, arts and leisure. While it drew some fairly obvious conclusions, other findings were insightful and thought-provoking.

The first object of research was measuring how much poverty impacts people’s participation in sports. It found that adults who lived under the poverty line played fewer sports for far less time. These findings replicated those in similar studies in Canada and Australia. The lack of involvement in sports is believed to increase health risks such as obesity that are already present in lower income groups.

Some people blamed the lack of sports facilities provided in their neighborhoods. Financial and logistical barriers are a constraint. Sports equipment and transportation to and from facilities may cost extra money that the family cannot afford to spend. Moreover, parents who work more than one job find it difficult to take the time out to supervise their children, especially if their neighborhood is perceived as unsafe.

Another reason for poorer people’s reluctance to take part in sports is that they are simply not interested in them, as a study in Ireland concluded. Research in Australia demonstrated that even with ease of access to facilities and training, lower income children and adults were still less likely to play sports than their middle and upper income counterparts.

The second objective of the research was to determine how poverty impacts people’s engagement with arts, libraries and museums. Unsurprisingly, people living under the poverty line were less likely to be interested in or involved in their community’s culture. Even libraries, which are free and open to the public, see lower levels of engagement from poorer people. Children living in poverty are more likely to use the computer or TV for entertainment.

In addition to the obvious barriers of transportation costs and time constraints (for adults), poorer people frequently voiced the view that arts were for “other people and not for them.” They reported feeling out of place and uninterested. In their daily lives, art was perceived as being completely irrelevant.

To fight the main barriers to engagement in sports and culture — a dearth of facilities, extra costs and a lack of interest — the literature review recommends a few solutions: community-based solutions, personal and trusting relationships between mentors and participants, and lower costs.

– Radhika Singh

Sources: UK Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Art Council of Wales
Photo: PxHere

Newly Formed "Sports & Rights Alliance" Advocacy Group-TBP
The Sports & Rights Alliance (SRA) is a newly formed coalition of NGO’s focused around preserving human rights in relation to global sporting events. The list of issues the SRA advocates for includes, but is not limited to: ending citizen displacement from sport infrastructure, imprisoning protesters, exploitation of workers, unethical bidding practices and environmental destruction.

The SRA is composed of various international NGO’s such as Amnesty International, FIFPro – World Players’ Union, Football Supporters Europe, Human Rights Watch, the International Trade Union Confederation, Supporters Direct Europe, Greenpeace, Transparency International Germany and Terre des Hommes.

This past February, the SRA penned a letter to the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stressing an adherence to the principles regarding the 2020 and 2024 games. The approved standards mandated by the International Labor Organization was a point of emphasis in addition to increased oversight and inspections for human rights conditions. For the bidding process, the letter requested robust efforts to maintain and enforce ethical business and anti-corruption in choosing a host city.

The IOC met this past February in Brazil to discuss “Agenda 2020,” the strategic outline for the future of the Olympics, which was passed by the committee in December of 2014. The closing of bid registration for the 2024 Olympic games is set for September of 2015 so the timing is most appropriate.

Many recent international games have come under intense scrutiny for similar violations. Free speech issues and poor treatment of their LGBT community has cast many questions and doubts regarding Russia’s selection as 2018 World Cup host. The 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics were tarnished due exploitation of workers, suppression of free speech and corruption. The SRA cites these as examples of a divergence from what international sport and competition should stand for and symbolize.

Additionally, the inaugural European Games are currently being held in Baku, Azerbaijan causing concern and objection throughout the continent. The country has a questionable human rights record and in recent months, government protesters, human rights advocates and international journalists have been detained and imprisoned on inflated charges. This causes great concern for the international community and for Europe in particular.

Another letter written to the President of the European Olympic Committee stressed the immediate and unconditional release of all current activists and journalists who are imprisoned. Furthermore, the letter called for an end to ongoing intimidations, detainments and persecutions of the aforementioned individuals.

FIFA’s selection of Qatar as the 2022 World Cup host has also been met with serious concern and criticism. In lieu of a pre-existing Football infrastructure, the country has relied upon migrant laborers to build multiple stadiums to host the Cup. This arrangement of labor is common throughout the Arabic Peninsula and known as the “kafala” system and is likened to modern day slavery.

FIFA has been inconsistent in their actions to condemn working conditions. The organization has stated their concern for the workers welfare, but also deny responsibility for their treatment. Referring to the government contractors, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, is quoted as saying “they are responsible for their workers.”

Before the FIFA Presidency election, the SRA wrote to President Sepp Blatter and his three opponents citing their grave concern for the condition of the workers. The letter included a questionnaire about their views on the current state of human rights in their sport. It also called for the victor in the election to take action to rectify any violations in the first 100 days of their presidency.

The SRA has proven to quickly become a powerful voice in international sports relations and gathered a following through their advocate efforts. Regarding the allegiance to human rights principles, the SRA have consistently ended their letters by saying, “All these standards should not be based on goodwill, but must be non-negotiable and absolutely binding for all stakeholders.”

Frasier Petersen

Sources: The Globe And Mail, Human Rights Watch 1, Human Rights Watch 2, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

How Yuwa Empowers Girls in India Through Football-TBP
India currently has the highest number of child brides on the planet, with 47 percent of girls married before they turn 18. The practice is more common in rural areas. In some states, the number reaches 69 percent. The rate of marriages is increasing for girls between the ages of 15 and 18.

There are many factors that account for this high number of child brides. Oppressive gender roles in India’s patriarchal society make it difficult for girls to pursue other options. They are typically expected to be mothers and care for the entire household. Girls often receive little schooling and have lower rates of literacy. It can be difficult for them to find work and become financially independent, so they have no choice but to marry young and depend on their husband while being burdened with domestic responsibilities. Families may also push girls to get married young out of concern for their safety and “honor.”

Child brides face risks to their mental, physical, and emotional health. Since many become pregnant at a young age, they are more likely to die in childbirth. They also have a greater chance of contracting HIV. They suffer more domestic violence: Indian child brides are twice as likely to be abused than girls who marry after 18. They also face higher rates of sexual abuse, and often exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder such as hopelessness and depression.

The Yuwa organization, an NGO based in the state of Jharkhand, is dedicated to using football (soccer) as a means to promote social development and discourage child marriage. Citizens of Jharkhand struggle with poverty and illiteracy, and it is a dangerous place for young women to grow up. Yuwa was founded in 2009, and since the program began, it has had 600 members. Currently, 250 girls participate in the program, with 150 practicing on a daily basis.

Through Yuwa, girls can organize new football teams or join an already existing team. Players collectively choose a team captain, who is responsible for tracking attendance. If a girl suddenly drops out or shows up less and less, her teammates can contact her to help her through whatever is keeping her from practice.

Yuwa’s program goes beyond football. They also work to educate girls so they can strive for a future beyond child marriage. Girls can attend their academic bridge program, which provides classes in math, science, and English, and computers. They also provide summer school and personal tutoring, and assist with transferring girls to better schools. Furthermore, Yuwa holds hour-long weekly workshops that focus on teaching life skills. These workshops are run by local female staff or other Yuwa girls, and they cover topics such as health, gender, gender-based violence, sexuality, self-esteem, and basic finances.

Yuwa’s primary objective is to inspire girls to take their futures into their own hands so they can fight child marriage, illiteracy, and human trafficking. Girls and their coaches can meet with their families to discuss options beyond marriage. Although some parents are not understanding at first, and want their daughters to follow the conventional path, many change their minds and begin to push for better futures for their daughters.

The Yuwa girls have seen success on and off the field. In 2013, a Yuwa team placed 4th in an under-14 tournament in Spain, and in 2014, they were invited to Schwan’s USA cup. Although football is not enough to undo all of the inequalities that Indian women struggle with on a daily basis, Yuwa’s girls are helping change attitudes and inspire girls to strive for new opportunities.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: Foundation for Sustainable Development, Girls Not Brides, The Guardian, International Center for Research on Women, Yuwa
Photo: Yuwa