After months of anticipation and years of planning, the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia is finally upon us. Set against a backdrop of corruption, discrimination and hooliganism, the latest instalment of the 32-team tournament could potentially set the global media coverage for events off the pitch as much as those on it.
With numerous members that awarded football’s showpiece event to Russia banned from the sport, or under investigation for corruption, the 2018 World Cup is perceived by many as highlighting what is wrong with the football industry and its governing body. And there is fertile ground for such reservations, enough even to compromise and question the allure of the footballs greatest spectacle.
While this intersection of politics and football highlights the failings of the football industry, it is vital that it does not shadow over the game as a whole. While there is much to lament about the global footballing establishment it is not by any stretch comprehensively representative of football. There are millions of people and countless organisations that work to use the sport to bring about real and meaningful changes to the lives of the most vulnerable in society.
Last weekend, for example, saw the culmination of the ten-day CONIFA World Football Cup tournament. CONIFA is an alternative football confederation that aims to represent a mix of non-recognised nations, regions and minority groups. It is a perfect demonstration of football’s remarkable capacity to move, and build bridges between, people.
At Football Beyond Borders, the sport is a vehicle for transformative changes in the lives of young people. It is a medium through which young people are empowered and are able to access a pathway to self and community fulfillment. FBB’s Head of Volunteering and Social Action Pete McNally says: “Young people are responsive to football, through it they engage in other subjects and important issues in their lives. We find that through football the young people people are able to become more self-aware, to express themselves and this translates to their engagement with learning.”
The sessions run by FBB are a source of positive impact in the young participants’ development. For starters young people’s experiences during their adolescence play a key role in determining the values they will hold in later life and the experiences they will take on. During these years, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are especially at risk of being permanently marginalised and excluded. Having a safe space to grow is particularly important during these formative years. Football provides an ideal platform where emotional regulation, decision-making and relationship-building can be mastered in a positive way.
“It is an important channel for us to instil positive skills, values and aspirations in the young people we work with”, McNally pointed out. Responding to the continued worries about the football industry that have become acute in the run up to this World Cup he said: “These worries are absolutely right. It is crucial that we constantly interrogate and ask what a socially minded football industry really looks like, and how we can bring this about.”
To support FBB donate to the FBB Crowdfunding campaign here which is taking place during the duration of the World Cup to raise money for a new Youth Centre in South London.