From Mexico to Malaysia and South Africa to Sweden, football unites people like very few other things in this world. It brings in crowds of humans who put their phones away, spend time together, and enjoy the atmosphere of the game. It is by far the most popular sport on the globe. Something of that magnitude does not go unnoticed by our society; football influences our lives and those of everyone who views it. As a sport that brings in so many different people with distinct backgrounds, it should use the opportunity to shed light on world issues that have impacted the very people watching and players on the field. Not only should football help others, but it should create a paradigm for doing so for its fans.
Following the tragic earthquakes that hit Morocco, a young boy appeared in an interview with the local news, wiping away tears with an old Real Madrid jersey as he explained his loss. Abdul Rahim Awhida, the 14-year-old in the video, was orphaned as a result of the disaster. After spending some days trying to find him, Real Madrid reached out to the fan and offered to relocate him to Madrid with a spot in their Youth Academy. He would study in Spain while playing football, and hopefully live out his late father’s wish of becoming a doctor or teacher.
Abdul’s life was changed in an instant when the disaster struck, just like thousands of others in the North African nation. Around the world, countless people experience natural disasters, disease, political turmoil, and violence. While humanity has not found a perfect solution to these issues, football has the potential to help in the aftermath. The sheer volume of people who could be exposed to ways of helping others in need, along with the money that goes into football clubs, could have a huge impact on the world.
This is not a revolutionary idea. In fact, some football clubs and associations donate funds to causes or sponsor charities. UEFA, European football’s main governing body, has a foundation that sponsors 65 NGOs worldwide, mainly centered around children. This is not mentioned enough in the context of football, and the extent of their help is also not clear. Fatma Samoura, the Secretary General of the international football association FIFA, spent two decades working in humanitarian aid with the United Nations. Her understanding of the social aid world is extensive, yet the organization does not leverage it to help others. Both associations are in a position to exploit their resources and aid an unbelievable amount of people, as well as make the work that they already do much bigger and better known.
There are thus two key elements that football should focus on; doing more for others, and being loud about it. Samoura understands the importance of humanitarian aid and the inner workings of the industry at an extremely high level. FIFA should use this to their advantage and help as many people in need as possible. With her position and FIFA’s financial records, they have no excuse for shying away from humanitarian aid. The resources to do so have been perfectly placed in their lap. Now, all they have to do is use them.
That being said, the only way that they can make a lasting difference through the world’s love for the sport is if they speak up. If UEFA is truly helping all the organizations they sponsor, they need to be loud about it. Spreading the word, normalizing humanitarian help, and inspiring others to join the cause are the best ways to help in the long run. A football club or association can only do so much help on their own- they need the support of their fans. You cannot create a ripple effect if you are too shy to touch the water.
Due to the international nature of the game and diversity even within clubs, it is not difficult to choose an issue that each club, association, or team can stand behind. For instance, some football players have had very tumultuous upbringings, from extreme poverty to war. Many of these players help others in need, especially from their hometowns or who suffer similar issues to them. For instance, Alphonso Davies, the Bayern Munich star, was born in a refugee camp and has donated to numerous causes including a children’s hospital in his Canadian hometown. According to the Bundesliga, his reasoning behind doing so is the following: “These kids need help, and I’m able to help.”
Yet the business side of football does not follow the same moral code. While many players regularly help those in need, clubs and associations are lagging behind significantly. We cannot expect a few individuals to create lasting change, while million-euro businesses stand in the shadows and applaud them every once in a while. The issue becomes even clearer when you realize that most of the football players helping others are ones who had very little growing up. We cannot accept that only those who have suffered care about those who are suffering.
The impact that companies of this magnitude could have is almost unimaginable. They have every tool to help other people at their fingertips and should be required to use them much more. Clubs have to change this standard when it comes to humanitarian aid and football. There are so many incredible opportunities to aid people and normalize doing so in the world of spectator sports. Football needs to leverage these, and we have to hold them accountable for choosing not to.
Featured image: Sky News