Gooooal: Make the World Better Through Soccer

The Quarterfinals of the World Cup began this morning and with soccer (or football) on our minds, we wanted to take a look at how nonprofit organizations around the world have used the sport in different ways as a catalyst in their work for social change.

In Brazil (home of the 2014 World Cup), two members of the Brazilian national team have founded centers that combine academic study and sports. Each day ends in a game of futebol to keep at-risk children and teens off the streets of the favelas where the schools are located. The game helps channel the youths’ energy, anger and frustration into a positive outlet, lowering rates of recidivism and increasing school enrollment.

In Kenya, the Kibera Community Self-Help Programme uses football as a meeting point for important discussions about sexual health. The organization arranges soccer matches for the young men and boys of Kibera, where one fifth of the estimated 2.2 million Kenyans living with HIV and AIDS reside. After tiring them out on the field, community workers draw everyone in for frank discussions about promiscuity, contraception and the role of men in the transmission of the disease that has ravaged their community. For most of the boys, it is the only formal education on sexual health that they will ever receive.

Although it is the world’s most played sport, children in refugee camps on the mine-ridden border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan are just being introduced to its allure. Games were largely banned under the rule of the Taliban, so soccer is now being used as a means to teach youth how to play, work in teams, and interact across gender lines. The right to play is included as a fundamental right of all children in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and with little to do at the camps during the day, organized sports are helping to keep morale up in what could be long periods of refugee status.

What is it about soccer that has so many nonprofits employing it as a tool for social change? UNICEF says it is because soccer is a universal language —Â a worldwide passion that easily translates across the markedly different realities where it is played. Regardless of what you call the sport, the rules are always the same, all you need is a ball, and the sport’s ability to elicit community interest and direct young people away from the lures of drugs, unsafe sex, or violence are tried and tested.

If soccer is your passion, even outside of World Cup season, try searching for ways to get involved with organizations that employ it as a major tool in their work. Do you have any other examples of how nonprofits have employed sports as a tool to carry out their mission? Tell us about them!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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