Sport as a tool for social integration
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child contains a broad set of international legal standards for the protection and welfare of children, in addition to those found in other international instruments. The general principles related to the best interest of the child, non-discrimination, participation, survival, and development, among others, constitute the frame of reference of this article, which also adopts as its main approach, the "approach of rights". For this approach, it is essential to consider the child as a subject of rights, which changes the relationship between children and adults, since it is the adults (the family, the community, the State) who have the obligation to promote and protect those rights.
The practice of sports, correctly planned and adequately executed, can become a powerful tool to foster integration and equal rights of several groups of people. Its popularity and high level of participation in several countries (especially in groups of children and youth) make it a very profitable field to work on promoting values and healthy habits for the entire family system and at the community level. Also, it becomes a valuable resource for the promotion of democratic societies.
Since the conception of the MDGs in 2000, sport has played an essential role in reinforcing each of the eight goals. Currently, the United Nations recognizes the "tremendous potential" that sports offer to advance the SDGs and to promote peace and human rights, commemorating every 6 April as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.
Fundación River Plate (FRP) was created in 2013 with the purpose of contributing to a more integrated and fair society, through educational, cultural, sports and social programs, promoting values on and off the pitch. Its goal is to achieve integral development of children and adolescents who live in contexts of vulnerability.
The Valores a la Cancha (VAC) program is the flagship proposal of FRP, whose purpose is to provide a supportive space for children, youth, and their families, who live in a situation of social vulnerability, through the development of physical activities in our football and values’ schools. These practices are based on specific methodologies, working with associated values on each stage of the sport, like effort, commitment, perseverance, and discipline.
Learning values is a process that is even more complex than learning concepts, since it requires awareness and a deeply rooted personal commitment. The effective acquisition of values is closely linked to the capacity of solving problems, whether they are singular and occasional, or complex and lasting. Taking this into consideration, children and youth can recognize themselves as active members of society, individually and collectively, capable of transforming the reality that surrounds them.
When the practice of sports is led by coaches who promote and put into exercise a positive dynamic, other benefits can be achieved, such as the following:
- Foster inclusion
- Promote equality
- Challenge gender stereotypes
- Become a tool for peace and psychosocial support
In this way, VAC seeks to promote a comprehensive learning and supportive space that enhances children and youth development based on effort, commitment, perseverance, and discipline, as well as the improvement of a healthy lifestyle, based on a balanced diet, mental and physical health, and a proactive community engagement.
Currently, FRP has eight schools of football and values. One of them is located near Puerto Iguazú (Province of Misiones, north-eastern Argentina), immersed in the Jasy Porá indigenous community. Jasy Porá joined the program in 2018, generating an alliance with the community itself and with near villages: Ita Poty Mirí, Yryapú and Tupa Mbaé. At that time, each village had 5 spaces to play football set up by members of the community, but both ground conditions (dirt and rocks) and lack of organizational planning, made it difficult to play sports. When VAC started working with Jasy Porá indigenous community, a multisport court was built with construction materials and lights were installed in the court; and the distinctive methodology of FRP was implemented, organizing football (and other sports) training sessions on specific days, times and with particular contents.
The work done by FRP in Iguazú meant a radical change for the community in terms of integration. VAC restored the trust of the community with organizations that are outside of it, establishing a link associated and oriented to common goods of locals, and having promoted inclusion in territories and populations that are far away from the cities and from this kind of possibilities.
Beyond cultural and language barriers (the community speaks the Mbyá Guarani language), sport works as a bridge to build values on and off the pitch. To date, 150 training sessions have been carried out under the program's own methodology, establishing a cognitive connection between the sports experience and the value that is worked on.
During 2022, Jasy Porá have participated in a side project from VAC financed by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Argentina to promote empowerment of women and gender equality. Its implementation was established in three stages:
- An exclusive training group for women was created to avoid dropping the VAC program. Now, almost 50% of participants are women and girls, enhancing SDG 5.
- An effort was made to deepen informal dialogue and bond development between the regional coordinator of FRP and the group of adolescents.
- Six exclusive workshops for women were planned with specific themes, such as the sense of belonging and community; prevention of unwanted pregnancy; understanding of anatomy and the menstrual cycle; among others.
This new partnership, directly linked to SDG 17, between the indigenous communities, who were reluctant to the arrival of other organizations, and Fundación River Plate, opens the door not only to the possibility of instilling values and social skills related to sport for children and youth of the community, but also to foster new ties that strengthen democratic values such as equality and human rights.
About the River Plate Foundation
Fundación River Plate has been working for the integral development of boys, girls and youth, taking the greatness of our football club (Club Atlético River Plate) to every corner of Argentina and even the world and that fills us with pride.
Through its educational, sports and social programs, the foundation contributes to the construction of a more just and integrated society, promoting values on and off the pitch, with sport and more precisely football as its banner. Fundación River Plate is our bridge to be where we have to be, and we assume the commitment to share our values as a club.