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I'm a huge football fan. I don't watch Premier League or Serie A football, nor can I play the sport very well, yet I was able to develop a love for the game through FIFA games for Xbox 360 and Play Station 3. This is not something strange or extraordinary, because people around the world have fallen in love with the sport one way or another. It has a way of drawing crowds and connecting them, regardless of background, ethnicity or faith. And it is because of these qualities that football, or soccer as it is known in the Western world, has become a go to solution when dealing with development issues. 

The European Commission and FIFA created a partnership in 2006,  addressing development issues through football and its positive impact on developing countries. They hope to progress towards the Millennium Development Goals through this effort and educate the youth on development issues. 

Fambul Tok - "Family Talk" in Krio - uses football as an attraction in its program to help pacify relations between communities affected by the civil war in Sierra Leone. 

Kanouté Foundation in Mali, founded by Beijing Guoan forward and former player for the Mali international team Freddie Kanouté, who initiated the project to help orphaned and vulnerable children improve their welfare and education. In his efforts to improve lives and reduce poverty, Kanouté's foundation has founded Sakina Children's Village, a programme which shelters children by providing housing complexes, a health centre and a school. In the middle of the children's village, of course, sits a football field, which apart from being used for football, is also used as operating grounds for volunteer programs, foreign medics, teachers and psychologists to help and educate residents of Sakina and surrounding villages.

The Street Child World Cup campaign is a testament to why the sport is just more than a game. As the only street child organization in the world, the campaign connects NGO's from around the world to raise awareness about the issues that Street Children face, help these children get a voice and push for growth and development opportunities for the children as they are generally denied privileges that every kid should be entitled to. In 2010, the campaign was able to hold its first Street Child World Cup in South Africa, where the FIFA world cup was taking place. India came out on top after beating Tanzania in the final!

The examples mentioned above, are some of many opportunities that organizations have capitalized on to help bring communities together and empower them. With 100 million children living and working in the streets, football has emerged as an effective way to help this demographic. In other scenarios, the power of competition has helped change perceptions and bring together communities that once were at war amongst one another. 

The world of football itself is combating racism as we speak. When thousands flock to see world famous players play on the same ground, amidst the battle on the field, there is a battle amongst races on the bleachers. On many occasions, disrespectful slandering has reached points of forcing players to stop playing football matches and engage in shouting matches against crowds of people. This should not be taken as a discouraging series of events because based on other successful ventures, this provides opportunity for football to tackle another issue that has plagued the world for thousands of years. With initiatives such as Kick it Out and Football Against Racism in Europe the sky is the limit with what football can achieve while tackling racism. If its anything that can help cure us of this disease, its football. With a following of over a billion people, I hope the most beautiful sport in the world becomes a means to an end for a world that is much need of unity and solidarity.

Aatir
3/24/2013 11:28:55

Its amazing how big of an effect a sport can have.

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3/25/2013 16:47:20

Definitely. Football has helped impact the world in many ways. Bringing the world together during the FIFA World Cup is a claim only football can make as a sport.

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3/24/2013 13:00:12

Great post Zain!
Soccer, like many sports, has brought people together and helped fight against racism. Events like the world cup have brought nations together to compete in the friendliest form of competition, rather than wars.
I think it is also important to point out that soccer bridges the socio-economic gap within the world. It is relatively cheap sport to play, all you need is a soccer ball (or something that resembles it) and you are set. It allows children and adults from all different incomes and social backgrounds to enjoy the same sport equally.

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3/25/2013 16:50:55

Exactly Rasha! That's why I think it is so easy for development organizations to implement it in their operations as well. You can make a goal out of anything so the only thing you really need is a football. Giving an opportunity for children in developing countries to engage in sports and competition is not only essential for their growth, but a part of child hood. If I didn't get a chance to participate in any sports as a child, I don't know how happy I would've been about it.

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Nafisa Kassam
3/24/2013 14:23:26

I completely agree with the power that a team sport such as soccer can have on people.
You listed many different organizations using soccer (or sports) as therapy; do you believe certain ones are more successful than others? If so, what sets them apart?

Great work with the blog! Always an interesting read.

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3/25/2013 16:54:51

I don't think ones use of sports is more effective than another because in the end the outcome tends to be the same, a good time that brings people together. However I do think organizations such as Right to Play and Street Child World Cup campaign instil sports better into their programs, but only because their goal of raising awareness and funds is centered around the engaging in sport activities.

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Maliha Majeed
3/24/2013 22:56:26

It's intriguing how soccer and other team sports can help bring communities together, while allowing differences to be set aside for the most part. I'm particularly drawn to the youth engagement aspect of some of the initiatives you've mentioned, as I believe community youth programs are extremely important. It makes me think of cases in developing nations where opportunities for youth to get involved in extracurricular activities can often be limited (for many reasons). Providing team sport programs (and engaging people to help run them) may not only lessen community stresses (i.e. by assisting childcare), but also allow youth to focus on staying active and positive within their community. Also, something a small as a youth soccer team could help bind community members by promoting a sense of place.

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3/25/2013 16:58:20

Great point Maliha. That's exactly what Kanouté's foundation has been able to do. Mali is currently undergoing a civil war so the time for finding a sense of place and unity is harder than ever. But with the creation of the children's village, elders have been able to make use of the services and find the grounds as an escape to solace and peace.

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    Zain

    As an avid listener of instincts and humanity, I strive to do things that put me out of my comfort zone. Cherishing the growth that comes along with this habit and all the beauty that life has to offer, I'd like to share my experiences with you. 

    All posts and opinions expressed are mine and completely independent of the University of Waterloo and the International Development program.

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