8 February 2019

streetfootballworld's co-founder Jürgen Griesbeck sat down alongside Werder Bremen Chairman and former German International Marco Bode and HODI's Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan to debate the future of football for good.


During the Get in the Game Summit 2018, streetfootballworld members and external guests were invited to participate in a question and answer session tackling an issue at the heart of football for good: How can football maximize its contribution to the 2030 agenda?


The discussion brought forth precious insight into an all too rare composition of football for good sector meets industry. Subsequently, much of the focus grappled with the position of Common Goal and its location between the two realms. Scolded as a deep laceration between sector and industry, Ann Bunde-Birouste from Football United described her disappointment in professional contribution after one year as “indicative of the sickness of our world.” Subsequently, the panel delved into the possibilities of bridging the gap and contributing to the 2030 agenda.


Why is it important to connect the change happening locally with the change happening globally?


Fatuma: Most of the time when you go out and do what you do, you can feel like a lone soldier out there. It can be isolating, especially in the Kenyan bush. But connecting with others in the same sector doing similar work, it amplifies your voice. On the ground, I know I need to build a team, I cannot work alone and the same goes on a global scale. If someone lights my candle, then I can light someone else’s, and they light someone else’s. All of a sudden the light is clear to see and the change can happen.


Marco: In my experience as a professional footballer, only by being a better team allows you to be successful and being successful within a team makes you a better person. That could also be the key for professional football to support the notion of football for good, as a team effort. However, the reality at the moment is very different. First of all, professional football must find ways to somehow control the beast of commercialising the sport more and more. The salaries of the players, the transfer fees are getting beyond normal. We have to talk and think about how we can control it and then we can start supporting the people in this room.


What is possible by 2030 and what more will it take to get us there?


Jürgen: If we look at Common Goal, and the 1% mechanism, the 1% is a symbol for the need of collective effort in order to make substantial change. Marco here, on his first game for the German national team shook hands with Nelson Mandela and on his last, played in the 2002 World Cup final. It demonstrates this immense communicational platform and opportunity to inspire other people by being who you are or behaving the way you do. The football industry and our sector are two different planets and we need to build a sustainable bridge between the two. I don’t see why we can’t bring the assets of our sector to the assets of the football industry and play a game together, where we score the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals together. Putting metaphors and theories aside, when reflecting on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals as a global agreement, on what our representatives signed us up for and then effectively did not fulfill, I think to myself: ‘What component is missing?’ In my opinion, it’s the ability to share a vision and then achieve it, going beyond our personal or organisation’s interests. Football offers this playing field, where these ingredients are so natural because they are the essence of the game.


Is there a conflict between the work done by clubs in the community they serve compared to supporting the rest of the world through football 4 good?


Marco: No, I don’t see it that way. If I use Werder Bremen as an example, we try to do both. We try to take care first of all the members of our club, the kids coming to the club and working with our coaches. However, the next step is to take that out into the community and then internationally. Together with sport foundations we are working internationally, helping young coaches develop as role models. Building on what Jürgen said, the big stars could be role models for so many kids, yet what I feel right now is not too many stars see this responsibility and a lot more should.


How does social enterprise fit within our own sector and within the Sustainable Development Goals?


Jürgen: My hope is that everything we are discussing will form a collective idea on what we want to achieve. Everything we do is based on the world we want to achieve or the kind of values we hold. For that reason, for the last 15 years within streetfootballworld we have tried to work hard on identifying what that shared value base is and to build trust upon it and now to move into a moment where we can actually act collectively. In terms of social enterprise, we can agree or disagree on how we get there. The most important thing we must have is a shared idea of where we are going.


Fatuma: It will not be enough to talk about social enterprise without economic development. When you look at the SDGs and ask why have they failed? It's because they make these ideas elsewhere, with very little consolation with the organizations working towards these goals on the ground. Take a mother in our programme, she is not aware of the SDGs. But if we are aware and able to sit at the table next to a Bundesliga star, this could be the power of football. We need to pull the players and the clubs into the football for good sector to make it happen.


With regard to common goal, how receptive have the players been from the professional world to the idea?


Marco: Anne (Bunde-Birouste) said she was not happy after one year with the number of players. With Werder Bremen having right now an e-player and no regular players, the answer is not an easy one for me to give. Of course there are some players who think about football for good, albeit a small percentage. Those that do, are often already active personally in some capacity hence many have maybe their own foundation. We know players playing in the Bundesliga are able to contribute 1%, but that bridge Jürgen speaks of, is not quite there yet.


Jüurgen: The experience I’ve had since launching Common goal has been fascinating. As soon as we’ve had the opportunity to come face to face with a football player, the success rate of players joining the movement, is probably 95%. If we get stuck within the protected environment of a player, with agents, representatives, family members, those advising the player, and even the clubs sometimes, it drops to below 10%.


Now, if you compare the male and female players currently signed, we have this astonishing 50/50 gender split between the 70 players. Female players and their story is a different one. With the women’s game, we always have direct contact and the players are sometimes even coming to us. The women in the game have an agenda to fight for, and they know that fight is needed in order to achieve something. It’s a “male” game. You’re expected to play football as a male, but for women it’s not yet the case. Although the women’s game is professional, the distance between us and the players is less.


Marco: I believe now we have really big distance between the superstars and the normal fan, or the professional game with grassroots and amateur level. We need to find ways to heal these worlds. We talked to the head coach at Bremen about Common Goal and he was very open minded and didn’t refuse to let the players know or get in contact with this idea but he was very sensitive about forcing players to think about it. Professional football is a competition, most of the players are so absorbed by their careers that they don’t see what’s going on in the world.


Jürgen: To follow on that, Common Goal often gets thrown into the bucket of “another charity asking me for money”. What's not really understood, that it’s really about leadership. We’ve learned that football players don’t talk about such issues within the locker room, they don’t necessarily talk about money or charity. In a sense, we are trying to create formats for players to meet because at the end of the day they are trying to find solutions for themselves.


Why isn’t everybody giving one per cent and not just players?


Jürgen: We are trying to do this. The one per cent approach applies to everyone. What’s interesting is the psychology behind it. I remember when we first talked to the Premier League and the initial response was, “1% in our case is a lot. My response was “your 100% is really a lot”. It really is psychological. I mentioned that half of the players that joined are female, and I would say at least half of those are earning a salary less than us here in this room. The bandwidth stretches from low to really high income football and sometimes I’m surprised what 1% means for many of the people to have joined.


Fatuma: The issue is that the idea should focus not so much on the 1% of players but rather the impact it would have. It’s the moral responsibility of football. Using the example of those in my village in Kenya, but it could also be one in rural India, the reality is: they’re probably not going to play Champions League. But a contribution, could turn a symbol into reality and could give the chance for people to play at a local level, which for them is a once in a lifetime chance and can turn their life around, becoming their very own champions league. They could have access to education and things which otherwise they wouldn’t be able to. This would be the first phase in using football to help achieve those goals, with the aim to then filter into the football industry, which is so wealthy, not as charity but as a moral responsibility. That would be a win-win for all of us.


Given the case of Mesut Özil at this summer’s World Cup, who felt he was racially abused, is it our responsibility as football for good ambassadors, to then educate and build sensitivity? Should we be the ones educating clubs and federations?


Marco: I think bringing education from the football for good movement, into the world of professional football, is a really good idea. We are talking about that in our club at the moment. The question could be, can we educate players on the world's challenges, and offer more than just a normal “footballing” education that you get everywhere. It’s a chance to improve clubs, with better players and better personalities, building better characters. It’s a huge challenge but a great chance for clubs to contribute within their academies. So I think yes, it’s a great idea. If it’s possible, of course, you need some people deciding within the football industry to enable it to be possible, but there is a growing interest in this idea.


Jürgen: Our only club in its entirety to join common goal has started to work with its youth academy. From the u14’s going up to the u16’s and beyond, they’ll be working on SDG related goals. The club has committed to handing out tickets for their young players to sell in their neighborhoods and schools, attracting more fans in coming to watch, with half of that revenue going towards the cause in topic. At the end of the season, there is a planned visit to an organization tackling the challenge they have been studying and working on throughout the season. If they work on a health related issue, for example, they could travel to an organization within the network, using the third half as the vehicle to do so. It’s our first experience working of this kind, made easier of course by the club being a common goal member but one we are nonetheless very proud of and excited about.


Marco: I think it would be naïve to believe the whole football industry is to change in a couple of years. I think there are some clubs, taking responsibility seriously. I would say Bremen is one of those, along with Freiburg here in Germany being another example. But of course there are many clubs not interested. Not to create excuses, however, the problem even with a club like Bremen, people will always argue that such efforts are a distraction to winning.


What is the role of women in the 2030 goals at the local and global level?


Fatuma: This is another chance to emphasise that we can’t talk about women getting in the game, when half of them are not on the pitch. First of all, we need to get women in the game. The power of football, and how we use it as a tool, is to use the principle of the game itself. For us, gender equality is not something you say for the sake of saying without walking the talk. So I hope to see more investment in that. We need to reflect on our own self, as an organisation and a network. If we can, at the local level, get that half in the game, then we can look at the regional level and eventually globally within the network. We’ve only just started to scratch the surface. Out of the network members, only 20 are led by women. My hope is to have an equal divide. Women need to sit at the table too. These opportunities might not be handed out but we need to grab them, taking positions and amplifying the voice of girls and women globally.


This article appeared in FOOTBALL4GOOD Magazine Issue 9/January 2019. Read more stories from the field of football for good here


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