NGO: World Football Should Promote Social Agenda

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(WFI) The head of the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP) tells INSIDER that world football is not doing enough to promote a social agenda and calls on Asian football to utilize the power of the game to develop their societies.

Zanitti says football can do much more. (WFI/James Corbett)
The Jordan-based NGO, which is chaired by FIFA vice president Prince Ali Bin Hussein, is leading a drive to implement corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies in Asian federations, but its CEO, Urs Zanitti, says that much more can be done worldwide to utilize football for the common good. 

"The global football family is not doing enough, that is for sure, and should do much more, that is absolutely clear. Where to start and what to do is the difficult question," Zanitti told INSIDER.

Zanitti said that for too long, CSR had been looked at "as a charity or a gift to the poor" when it wasn’t about that.

"It’s trying to develop countries; trying to develop their own business to use CSR and social activities and these platforms.

"What we see now is that business has penetrated football; football now needs to follow certain business practices."

Asia, he added, lagged behind European football in this area.  "Asia is not yet aware of what the power of football can be and bring forward the development of their societies in general," he said.

Refugee Crisis

His comments come as Jordan is beset by a refugee crisis as hundreds of thousands flee fighting in neighboring Syria. The AFDP is coordinating attempts by the global football community to bring respite to refugees, but despite visits by FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini, the response has been disappointing.

These Syrian children are among those who have fled to the Za'atari camp in Jordan. (Getty Images)
On Tuesday INSIDER visited the Za'atari camp on Jordan’s northern border with Syria. The camp has risen from the desert in the past year to become the second biggest such settlement on the planet and Jordan’s fourth biggest conurbation. More than 100,000 people now live there, around half of whom are children. Most live in tents and shacks and are provided basic food, water and sanitation by the United Nations and other NGOs.

What is in many respects a bleak place, where people have fled unimaginable horror and been left with nothing, is also a place of hope. Despite their problems, there is a palpable ‘can do’ attitude among the refugees, which is encouraged by the sense of positivity from aid organisations. More than 3,000 businesses have been set up by refugees and the place teems with life, despite the obviously difficult circumstances in which people find themselves.

What it is lacking, however, are amenities, and although safe from the violence here in the heat and dust of the desert, there is little to do.

To counteract this, the AFDP has tried to utilize football as a way of easing daily lives of refugees.

"Football is the most popular sport in the world and we are trying to use it as common way both to educate, to bring harmony and normalcy to young kids life," Prince Ali told INSIDER.

The AFDP helped secure funding from the Norwegian government to build seven pitches in Za'atari and other camps. UEFA has provided footballs and the services of two coaches. As well as encouraging football, coaches have used it as an educational tool, for example, on mine education – which given the arsenal of munitions left behind in the Syrian conflict would be hugely important.

It would be wrong to overstate football’s influence on the camp. Conditions are rudimentary, and areas set aside for leisure are generally scrubs of rocky wasteland. There is little shelter and in the daytime heat, most sit around in what little shade is provided by makeshift buildings.

Moreover, despite the game’s huge wealth, the overall support from the global football family has been lacking.  

Though children at Za'atari are safe from warfare, there is little there in the way of recreation. (Getty Images)
"Children are bored," says the UNHCR’s Aoife McDonnell. "They’re growing older in the camp; they’re growing older here in Jordan. They want a lot of the things they had at home. As a humanitarian community, it’s difficult to deliver that.

"We certainly need support from people outside of the usual donors and that might mean football clubs or running clubs. It’s getting people involved who might not ordinarily support a refugee situation.

"In Za'atari, we have an opportunity to change people’s lives, to give them hope when all they can see is misery back home. Many of these children have lost family members, parents, have lost everything that they believe is home. For all we know, we could have the next Zidane or Beckham here."

McDonnell said that the football community could help "with very basic material needs" such as t-shirts, kits, and balls, going up to bigger requirements such as the funding of a pitch, "something that would just give people a break from the horrible stories we hear so much about."

She added that the moral support of European football would have a huge impact on the camp.

"This is a population that follows the Premier League. We have to harness that energy and momentum and put it to good use; otherwise, we risk losing a generation."

"This is a crisis unparalleled in recent history and these kids are just desperate for something normal."

By INSIDER’s James Corbett in Amman

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