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Refugees: How football can change the game


Refugees: How football can change the game

Jürgen Griesbeck, founder of the streetfootballworld network, shares his thoughts on the "massive opportunity to use the game we love to change the world".

I have spent my entire professional life in the field of football for good. I have listened to thousands of stories and witnessed hundreds of situations where football has saved lives. The football business, though, hasn’t identified this as an opportunity; instead, it packs it all into the charity box. It works in just the same way as any other business, interested first and foremost in its own growth.

The difference is, I believe, that football should actually not be just like any other business.
In its plainest, simplest iteration, football belongs to us all. It is our passion. It is the embodiment of team play, of the importance of everyone using their strengths to contribute to a greater vision. The beautiful game is a common good, a game that stands, as David Goldblatt claims, for more: “football is part of our common culture, a fabulous heritage of more than a hundred years of play, a repository of powerful identities and solidarities”. As such, football has not only the capacity but also the moral obligation to be different. Improving an entertaining product is important, but the truth is that this is not enough.

The opportunity is right in front of us. Club after club is pledging support for refugees, offering meals and German lessons at training camps and inviting refugees to matches. The European Club Association, on a suggestion from FC Porto, encouraged all teams playing in the Champions League and the Europa League to donate €1 on every ticket sold to their first home game. Fans are waving ‘Refugees Welcome’ banners at games. Football is mobilising on a broad scale for the first time in recent memory.

This, along with the standard charity work and isolated do-good initiatives, shows me that football is showing signs of a change in thinking. But stopping here would be stepping off the pitch at halftime. We need to make this change both systemic and permanent.

Imagine what could happen if clubs big and small, players, leagues, federations and fans around the world were all working together, just as a team does to win a game. And now go one step further and imagine what we could achieve if, instead of offering a series of important but isolated and unsustained initiatives addressing a single emergency, the entire football industry turned connecting business with purpose into its long-term game plan.

What I’m asking you to imagine is what could happen if the world of football decided to embed the values of the beautiful game into the industry. We are teetering on the edge of a massive opportunity to use the game we love to change the world. I’m not talking about some utopian scenario—all the ingredients are here, waiting to be used.

There are already hundreds of organisations all over the world using football to solve the problems of real people. These organisations understand the value of the game and carefully weave it into programmes that are helping millions of young people to access education, overcome dangerous environments, discover their talents, and become citizens with a contribution to make wherever they choose—or are forced—to live.

Football can, and should, lead the way. It’s time for us to feel that overwhelming sense of pride that only football can offer—by showing the world how to change the game.

This is a shortened version of a longer article

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team]


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Jürgen Griesbeck


Friday, September 18, 2015 - 00:00