15 September 2015

Some thoughts from our founder, Jürgen Griesbeck:

 

Faced with the toil of refugees desperately fleeing their homes, many of us have, to our credit, opened our own homes and hearts and arms to show our fellow human beings that we stand beside them in their struggle for security and dignity. 

 

This overwhelming response to distress is a display of the very best of humanity: empathy, altruism, solidarity, trust. Which makes it easy to lose sight of a nagging truth: until we build those qualities directly into the way the world is run, we will continue to create humanitarian emergencies.

 

It is not how we react to a crisis that defines us as a society, but rather how we go about ensuring that the next crisis doesn’t happen. We must face the real reasons that we have reached this point.

 

I find it increasingly unbearable that personal and organisational egos prevent us from pooling our collective capabilities and working as a team. Profit maximisation is still the standard measurement of success. We continue to subjugate our very best human qualities to considerations of personal well-being, political power and financial bottom lines. We are so focused on the parties involved that we fail to grasp the solutions at hand. And yet there is no problem that can’t be solved; the catch is that there’s no single individual who could solve any of the major problems of our times alone.

 

The first signs of a much-needed collective shift in mindset have already appeared in the forms of new corporate and philanthropic investment models, such as shared value or collective impact. But we haven’t quite got it just yet; we are still wrapped up in the old paradigm of return on investment, where the final goal justifies the means. We are still taking first and then giving back later—if we give back at all.

 

Shouldn’t it be unthinkable to run a business that doesn’t naturally embed a positive social and ecological footprint? Shouldn’t we demand that our political leaders put human dignity and environmental sustainability first?

 

What if our understanding of success reflected social engagement, contribution to the greater good and compassion rather than wealth that is maximised at all costs? If we celebrated giving instead of taking? 

 

It seems impossible to convince our political and corporate leaders to understand and adopt the values of team play for the greater good as opposed to the standard, ever-changing alliances based on self-interest. This is where I think football can change the game.

 

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.

 

These organisations produce measurable impact and economic value for our communities, using football as a key element to their solutions. The tingling of toes before stepping onto the pitch leads the young people in their programmes to so much more: trust-based relationships with peers and mentors, life skills training, confidence, responsibility, leadership. And over 40% of their participants are female.

 

The visionary, courageous and impact-driven leaders of these organisations are all part of the streetfootballworld network, which aims at making the most efficient use of resources by following a common mission, sharing best practice, agreeing on quality standards and supporting each other with whatever it takes to succeed collectively. They don’t deal in egos—they have their eyes set on a greater goal.

 

Why, I ask, is this world of Football for Good so far removed from the football industry’s DNA?

 

Now is the time for football to take the next natural step and lead the way toward a world that can team up for collective action beyond personal, organisational, or institutional interests. Now is the time for football to unleash its real power by embracing the field of Football for Good, both strategically and systematically. 

 

Just 1% of the industry’s profit has the potential to increase the number of young people reached through football-based programmes by a factor of 100: from 1 million to 100 million. That’s 100 million prepared, confident citizens who understand the importance of teamwork and shared goals, taking their place in the world as our teachers, colleagues, neighbours, leaders, heads of state… and some of them, of course, our heroes on the football pitch.

 

The need for migration and asylum seeking is not going to disappear, and increasingly, we will have to think differently about shared approaches to humanitarian crises. We can no longer delegate problems—we must start creating solutions together. By acting as a single team with a shared goal, we will be able to mould our world into the kind of place we yearn to see: where people are people and not statistics, and everyone makes a meaningful contribution to the pursuit of an egalitarian, sustainable society. Just as each member of a football team has her own special talent required for a win, so does each individual, each company, each government. Once we get everyone playing on the same team, we’ll be able to think and act more effectively and efficiently, as well as more compassionately.

 

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.

 

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