FIFA and the United Nations Educating the Most Underprivileged Through Sport

Although the strategic alliance between the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the United Nations was signed in 1999, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's words on that occasion are still fully relevant: "I am very happy to announce a new partnership between the only truly international organization-the United Nations-and the only truly international sport-football." A great surge of hope was generated that day, and the number of activities in the field is constantly on the rise.

Football is not just a universal sport, but it also possesses an extraordinary unifying and integrating power. Aid projects that harness this power enable people from different backgrounds to find a common ground and a source of encouragement. Through this sport, even members of opposing sides in conflicts have the opportunity to learn and bond with each other on a neutral and unifying subject. It is basically a chance to meet other people through playing football! Ignorance and fear of other people, who are often perceived as a threat, are at the heart of the majority of conflicts. As soon as a group finds a common ground through football, a shared identity is forged, which overcomes differences in terms of religion or ethnicity. Playing together thus becomes a tool for social and moral integration, which is what FIFA actively seeks to encourage. When local populations cease to believe in the future and suffer from a lack of enthusiasm, sport has a key role to play. Football has the power to transmit joy, passion and friendship, and offers an invaluable alternative to the stress of daily life.

The social responsibility of FIFA is no mere empty promise, and it is evident on a daily basis through its various humanitarian projects. This is why FIFA has decided to harness the extraordinary power of football. Under the leadership of its President, Joseph S. Blatter, FIFA has made addressing social and human concerns one of its main priorities for the future. Football is capable of playing a central role in such areas as establishing peace, fighting discrimination, promoting health, protecting children's rights and many other issues, including education.

Millions of young people all over the world have no hope of having a decent standard of living because they are deprived of the right to education. In developing countries, it is estimated that 120 million children do not have the chance to even attend primary school. In contrast, a huge number of children and teenagers play football in the backstreets of their hometowns, in refugee camps or on makeshift pitches. Mr. Blatter is keen to remind people that "even at this level, football is much more than just a game". Playing football is a positive activity that young people incorporate into their daily lives, a means of promoting the peaceful settlement of conflicts and a tool that enables them to avoid the pitfalls of drugs, unsafe sex and violence. It is an opportunity for the young to grow up in better health, with a good level of fitness and confidence. Football is a school of life for youth, based on true values, such as discipline, respect and solidarity.

To enable young people to envisage a better future, FIFA as a sporting body is not in a position to act alone. It has therefore sought cooperation from specialized organizations with precise know-how and good knowledge of the issues. Thanks to this strategic alliance, the activities are focused and effective. One good example is its collaboration with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), an agency that works in conjunction with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private-sector companies and other bodies. Together, they can utilize football's immense popularity and high profile with the aim of helping every child-both boys and girls-to go to and remain in school.

UNICEF also works with well-known footballers to draw attention to the plight of girls, who are victims of abuse or forced labour. In 2005, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Wes Brown and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer-all famous players-travelled to Bangkok, Thailand, where UNICEF is implementing a programme that offers protection, education and training to girls as young as five, some of whom have been abused or forced to work. The joint Go Girls! Education for Every Child campaign illustrates the efforts FIFA and UNICEF have made worldwide to open new horizons for young girls in developing countries.

The humanitarian action begun by FIFA in 1995 through various aid programmes is being carried out in a coordinated and focused manner as part of the Football for Hope movement, which is enthusiastically supported by the football family. This commitment includes community training projects, charity and financing campaigns, programmes to provide facilities and infrastructure, development projects, courses and seminars, and institutional and organizational assistance-all of which are ultimately driven by one thing: passion for sport. In 2006, around 30 projects have been incorporated into the movement, including the Defenders of Chaco programme, which provides aid to 1,200 children and young people in Argentina. Also worthy of mention are the five national projects run by the Play Soccer organization, which offer recreational football activities as part of a wider health, physical and social development programme. They aim to provide children between the ages of 5 and 14, mostly girls, living in the most vulnerable and underprivileged communities of Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia, with an informal education.

FIFA will also be supporting a new project called Schools for Sport and Life, which will reintegrate children into the education system through football. Thanks to the enthusiasm generated by the sport, young people can be motivated to work hard at school, attend classes regularly and remain in education. In 2005, FIFA provided football equipment for Sudanese refugees in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camps in Chad and Darfur. FIFA has also worked with the International Labour Organization (ILO) since 1997 on its international programme for the abolition of child labour, in particular on a project targeting the football manufacturing industry. The project has laid the groundwork for a campaign against child labour in Sialkot, Pakistan. The combination of education and social protection programme and increased awareness by children and their parents has resulted in child labour virtually disappearing from Sialkot. FIFA and its partners, in particular Adidas, have provided a $2-million subsidy for the first three phases of the project.

The FIFA President takes his social responsibility commitments very seriously. This has prompted Mr. Blatter to allocate the necessary funds-0.7 per cent of the total revenue of FIFA-for the implementation of programmes. In order to achieve his goals, he has highlighted two strategic points for the aid work of FIFA. First is to form a partnership network among the 207 FIFA member associations, the United Nations agencies, NGOs, national development and cooperation agencies, and other organizations. It is impossible to operate alone, and assistance from specialized agencies is always necessary. Healthy collaboration enables joint programmes for human development to be implemented. Partnership therefore, is a key concept in the Association's approach. Secondly, FIFA sets specific objectives for all of its work. "Our programmes are all concerned with establishing peace, fighting discrimination, improving social integration, promoting health and giving priority to education and environmental affairs", says Mr. Blatter. Thanks to football's positive values, FIFA and its partners contribute to the creation of a better world, especially for young people!