A coach from the Colombian program Fútbol con Corazón with some of the children enrolled in this creative program that promotes respect and tolerance. (Photo: Fútbol con Corazón)
Last week hundreds of people from all over the world gathered in Chicago to celebrate the role of sports in fostering social change. My colleague Sandra Cress and I were there, representing the One World Futbol Project -- and we got a heavy dose of enthusiasm from the fast-growing movement of sports for social change. We both came home with so many business cards that almost a week later we're still following up!
The event was the 2010 Beyond Sport Summit, an annual gathering founded in 2008 by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Nick Keller. Blair was in attendance by video, but in person there were other luminaries, including Prince Feisal Al-Hussein of Jordan, U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, and renowned athletes and Olympic gold medalists including Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Ian Thorpe, Michael Johnson, and Julie Foudy.
It's hard to convey just how inspiring it is to spend nearly three days shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of people, both famous and humble, all so dedicated to using sports to advance positive social change. They're using sports in all sorts of ways in peace and conflict resolution programs, environmental efforts, community development projects, health programs, and so many other innovative ways.
If you're in need of a jolt of hope in your life, here's one: a very brief look at the ten amazing grassroots organizations that won the Beyond Sport Awards given last week. They were selected from over 400 entries from more than 115 countries.
- METROsquash (Chicago) uses squash as a hook to engage students in academics, fitness, community service, mentoring, and cultural enrichment.
- Sport 4 Socialisation (Zimbabwe). This group has developed a unique concept to improve the quality of life of children with disabilities and their families.
- Fútbol con Corazón (Colombia) uses a "soccer for peace" methodology. They set up mixed girl-boy teams in various age categories to promote honesty, solidarity, respect, and tolerance.
- The Township Baseball Academy (South Africa) works with at-risk youth. They combine team sports to teach young people about achievement, positive communication, and discipline, and transfer that experience into the classroom.
- Kicking for Peace (South Africa) is a model grassroots initiative that uses soccer as a way to prevent conflict and promote peace in South Africa.
- The Kick4Life Curriculum (Lesotho) addresses the HIV/AIDS crisis in Lesotho, which has one of the highest rates of prevalence in the world. The program uses a range of sports activities and games to educate kids about the crisis and encourage them to change their behavior in ways that will lessen the threat of the epidemic.
- Project GreenHands (India) has mobilized over one million rural people through sports to plant and nurture 8.2 million trees in a part of India threatened by disaster from global warming.
- Hapoel Tel Aviv Football Club (Israel) supports a sports for development and peace project, in collaboration with local partners and governmental entities, working with cross-border communities, Bedouin children in remote villages, children with special needs, and newly arrived immigrants, primarily children from families below the poverty line.
- Galz & Goals (Namibia) is a partnership between the Namibia Football Association, UNICEF, and SCORE (Sports Coaches Outreach) to empower girls aged 9 to 15 to live a healthy life through participation in football leagues and festivals.
- Beyond the Ball (Chicago) offers a variety of sports programming in a poor urban neighborhood beset by gang activity, using sports as a way to engage community members in playing peacefully together and reclaiming a large park space from street gangs.
Sandra and I were especially moved by the people who run Kick4Life and Beyond the Ball. At Kick4Life, Peter Fleming and Daniela Gusman are working tirelessly to reach at-risk children in the rugged terrain of Lesotho, a small, impoverished country entirely surrounded by South Africa where one in four people are infected with HIV/AIDS. Beyond the Ball founders Rob and Amy Castaneda didn't quit when their home was torched multiple times. It only strengthened their resolve to take back their neighborhood from the gangs and violence and provide a safe haven for kids to play.
And it's not just grassroots groups like these that have taken up the exciting challenge of using sports to promote positive social change. For example, Sandra and I learned about the amazing work that two NFL teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints, have been doing in their communities. The Saints raised more than $1.4 million to benefit those affected directly by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Eagles partner with local public schools, run a bookmobile, build public parks with play structures, and provide eye exams and glasses for kids.
These are just some of the thousands of community-based efforts now underway all over the world that use sports to make our lives a little better.
Kids in Ghana with the One World Futbol they received from our partner, Semester at Sea. (Photo: Keri Oberly)
At the One World Futbol Project, we applaud the vision of Nick Keller and his team of miracle workers at the Beyond Sport Summit. Beyond Sport has quickly become the premier global event that brings focus and attention to this critically important idea and the work behind it.
We're proud to have joined this exciting movement and we are eager to extend an invitation to you to be part of it, too. If you don't know how, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.