The famous English football manager Bill Shankly once said – “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
Football – It’s more than a game. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Officially, more than 250 million players play the game in almost all of the roughly 200 countries of the world. Not to mention those who play the game unofficially or simply spend their time watching the beautiful sport of football. The FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championships are in the list of top 5 sporting events of the world, as published by Forbes magazine. On a regular basis, many football players are on the list of most influential people in the world, as published by Time magazine. Such is the extent of the influence of football and the people as well as bodies involved with the sport. It has touched the lives of people of all demographics and influenced countries all over the world. It has become much more than a sport in the world today. It has become a global movement for change and improvement.
Football has had a massive influence on individual nations all over the world. The instance in this case is the most significant and substantial contribution made by a single player/sport anywhere in the world. I am talking about none other than the Chelsea legend and the African King – Didier Drogba. Turmoil and civil war was large in the Ivory Coast. In October 2005, after leading his country to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Didier Drogba fell to his knees in front of the camera and begged the warring parties to lay down their arms. The result: within a week, his wish was granted and the leaders of the two sides were standing side by side proudly singing the national anthem. One football player managed to glue his country together. Such is the massive influence of the game and the people involved with it, all of whom are idolized to great extents. However, the remarkable contribution is that these same players, who are idolized, are all eager and willing to give back and contribute as individuals for the welfare of the world and society. We all are aware of Didier Drogba’s antics and shenanigans on the pitch. Many a times his integrity is called into question. On being asked why he did not defend his character with such examples of his contribution he replied: “Honestly, it doesn’t bother me what I get accused of. The people who mean most to me know what I am really about. I know what I stand for and that is all that matters”. Even though I am a die-hard Manchester United fan and the rivalry culture makes me intuitively boo and jeer at the opposing team players I have only the following to say to you King Drogba – Respect, we bow down to you and your contribution!
Racism is a global issue today and it is a shame to see how prevalent it is in the world. Football as a sport has been working diligently to eliminate racism and discrimination entirely, branding it as a social evil which must be ousted. Various movements have been initiated to oust the social evil of racism. And these movements have been clearly working. The demographically diverse players involved in the game and its anti-racism movements are a clear indication of the fight against racism. The organization kickitout.org has launched a movement whose banner says “let’s kick racism out of football”. This campaign has been supported and funded by various governing bodies such as the PFA, the Football Association and the Premier League as well as players who advertise for the campaign and the spread the social message to boot racism out. Similarly, UEFA as well as FIFA have launched their own anti-racism campaigns and FIFA has now declared anti-racism days to be held annually. We may have our issues with Sepp Blater, the president of FIFA, the governing body of football around the world, but kudos to him for fully supporting the movement and give it the push it required.
Anyone heard of the Rio Ferdinand Foundation? The Craig Bellamy Foundation? The Didier Drogba Foundation? The Stiftung Foundation by Franz Beckenbauer (www.beckenbauer-stiftung.de)? The UK Football Foundation funded by the Premier League (www.footballfoundation.org.uk)? Jason Roberts, Stephen Ireland, Christoph Metzelder, Roque Santa Zruz and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst are just a few other football players with similar charity and social foundation for the welfare of the not so fortunate. These foundations aim to develop education, training and employment support programs for communities which lack resources and opportunities all over the world. The impact that these foundations are having on individual lives cannot be underscored using any words. The magnanimous nature of these football players fills us all with a sense of pride and restores our faith and belief in humanity. Pele once said – “Every kid around the world who plays soccer wants to be Pele. I have a great responsibility to show them not just how to be like a soccer player, but how to be like a man.” Today’s footballers are truly making the world a better place to live in. Even the much maligned Joey Barton visited a school on behalf of a charity and told pupils not to repeat his many mistakes. In addition to all this, FIFA also is responsible for global charity and social work with their Football For Hope and 20 Centers for 2010 movements which are both successes so far, all in partnership with the streetfootballworld organization. They have greatly helped disadvantaged communities all over the world, especially in Africa during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
In addition football has also brought about many positive influences such as international co-operation and sustainable development of the environment to name a few. Football has worked closely with many global organizations such as the United Nations as well as individual football governing bodies. For example, FIFA teamed up with the International Labor Organization to stop child labor and child abuse as well as with the UNICEF to promote human rights and education for children around the globe. Football is also helping raise awareness for the environment and ensuring that our world is a cleaner place to live in with each day. FIFA had launched its green goal and now has its governing body based in a building which has absolutely zero emissions of harmful gases. The football world has been engaging with several institutions to find sensible ways of addressing environmental issues and mitigate the negative environmental impacts linked to its activities.
Football and the people involved with the sport have truly given back to the world much more than could be ever asked of them. I am sure the football Gods around the world are smiling down at the contribution of the game and the individuals associated with it. I will leave you with a few lines from Jurgen Griesbeck, the man behind streetfootballworld: “The beautiful game itself is part of the solution. And it has teamed up to further the cause of development – a huge opportunity and an immense responsibility!” I must say, so far, it has been fulfilling the responsibility.