More Than Just a Game: Soccer as an Agent For Social Change

By Erik Distler

Affecting social change can require nothing more than a round ball and love for a game.

These are the foundational ingredients within a number of development efforts utilizing the sport of soccer to improve the livelihood and well being within communities around the world.

Soccer, as it’s referred to in the United States, is perhaps unarguably the world’s most popular sport. It’s celebrated, followed and played almost religiously in all corners of the world.

It’s been estimated that one out of every two people in the world watched the 2010 World Cup hosted in South Africa. The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, commonly known as Euro 2012, is currently ongoing and it’s been reported ESPN has experienced an increase in television viewing audience of 183 percent to date in comparison to the previous contest, Euro 2008.

The popularity of the sport is wildly opportunistic in fashions extending beyond the game played beautifully on a rectangular pitch. Search for Common Ground is leveraging common passion for the sport in conflict resolution towards collaborative problem-solving. Uncharted Play harnesses passion with The SOccket, an eco-friendly soccer ball that during play stores the kinetic energy of the ball to then be used as a power source for electricity needs.

Soccer is also critical to the operating model of organizations focused on international development, community building and engagement. Good Football addresses global challenges by applying sport to development in working with local resources and seeking locally managed solutions for long-term growth. employs an approach they call “Community-Driven Development,” which entails providing the means and support for communities to engage in and direct their own development projects. The organization supplies the raw materials and technical, project management knowledge to local citizens who build soccer fields for their community. The process itself strengthens the community and the resulting field serves a purpose similar to a city center or a common public space. Both boys and girls of all ages are engaged in play and competition and community members gather around the field to observe, converse and enjoy each other’s company. The community takes pride in the upkeep of the field and surrounding area. It’s easy to imagine the multiplier effect across a wider population and the local environment.

Tenets of capacity building and collaboration are the bedrock to development efforts of long-term, sustained positive impact and soccer is a strategic answer for many communities in need.

Resilient social change requires sincerity in understanding local needs and appreciation for what already exists and thrives in a community, and working within this framework towards locally owned solutions and results.

Perhaps most importantly, development necessitates commonality and shared passion, and soccer as the world’s game, speaks one language we can all understand.

Erik Distler is a sustainability professional and recent Masters of Public Administration graduate from Presidio Graduate School.

[Image Credit: Fabbio, Flickr]



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2 responses

  1. Given polarization of all sectors, all-too-common
    practice of deciding and judging before understanding a topic or issue
    and widespread inability to embrace complexity….as a rooted foundation, soccer (and sport) is a great channel.

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