Fans and supporters of the world's game: it's time to reclaim it.
Like many of you, I have been reading about the indictments of FIFA officials with a heavy heart: how could something inherently unifying be abused so systematically? With widespread popularity, the potential of soccer to shape our global interactions and culture is enormous. At its purest, people young and old play soccer wherever they can with whomever is up for a game that day. Communities, even nations, push themselves to higher levels of skill and collaboration to prepare for competition, their unique cultures shining through in their style of play.
With power comes not only responsibility, but opportunity. What if the game's influence could be used to make the world a better place? Those efforts are already underway, but remain overshadowed by the allure of mega events and million dollar contracts, their potential undermined by a lack of awareness and sufficient funding. Organizations across the world are leveraging the power of soccer to address some of the world's most pressing social challenges, from empowering girls and women in places where their voices are suppressed, to helping refugees integrate to their new communities, to building bridges and communication avenues across cultural barriers, and much more. FIFA has a tremendous platform for this important work; in 2014, their Football for Hope initiative distributed 3.1 million dollars across 108 independent organizations using soccer for social development. Imagine what could be done with 150 million dollars diverted to those and other positive efforts. Now we can.
In fact, there is a huge opportunity to move forward hiding right in plain sight: the Women's World Cup kicks off in just a few days. FIFA was born out of a desire to enable international competitions, to create rules under which fair matches could be held, and clear the way for a global competition -- the Men's World Cup -- which would later become the world's largest single sport event. In the last few days, our worst fears and suspicions were confirmed: this event, and the many decisions and events that roll up to it, is mired with greed, kickbacks, and bribes. But the Women's World Cup? Not so. Not a single women's director was indicted (even further, no women at all). This may speak to gender inequality in the highest ranks of FIFA, but also to the way that women's soccer has stayed true to the game.
The World Cup in Canada is teeming with stories of heroism, underdogs and breakthroughs. Players will take the world's stage not because there are millions of dollars waiting at the other end, but for the pride of representing their country at the highest level, and love of the game they have sacrificed so much to play. Follow Team Thailand, the country's first-ever national soccer team (men's or women's) to qualify for a World Cup. Support Costa Rica, the first-ever Central American women's team to qualify. Get to know the players on Team USA, many of whom piece together their NWSL salaries with other work and homestays in order to ensure that the USA- home to thousands of opportunities at the college level- is also home to a professional women's league. You don't need to look far in this 24-team lineup to be reminded of why we all love the beautiful game.
The ripple of these efforts travels beyond these teams and countries. For our part, plans are already underway in Soccer Without Borders programs from Nicaragua to Uganda and across the U.S. to share these stories with our participants and cheer on these teams as they seek their sport's highest prize. Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to #ReclaimTheGame for the next generation, and there is no better way to do that than celebrating and investing in the parts of global soccer that have quietly and passionately brought its potential to life. And we can start with the World Cup.
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