Breakthroughs in Belo Horizonte
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When asked what he feared most, Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister of Britain in the early 1960s is supposed to have replied, “Events, dear boy, events.” The organisers of FIFA’s Football for Hope conference, held this year in Belo Horizonte in Brazil, have surely been thinking the same. This celebration and examination of the work done across the world, linking football with social development, has had to cope with more events than most conferences will ever face.

The wave of demonstrations which have engulfed the country over the last few weeks, protesting from the state of public services to the costs of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ reached Belo Horizonte. However, these events have not been ignored, but actively engaged with.

At the opening session, Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and three Brazilian delegates explored and debated the origins of the protests and argued that the challenge facing everyone present was how to use the power of football to tackle those social inequalities and injustices that lay behind Brazilian’s anger and concern.

This year’s Football for Hope conference brought together over 200 leaders and activists in the football for development movement, representing organisations and projects from over 50 different nations, to network, learn and above all be inspired by each other’s ideas.

The workshops covered an extraordinary range of topics: from promoting gender equality to how to develop a communications strategy. There was even some football as the participants were lucky enough to see Brazil win their semi-final of the FIFA Confederations Cup against Uruguay and sneak away to a city park and play five-a-side with local kids.

Even to those familiar with the social potential of grassroots football the four days of discussions proved to be a revelation. In Israel and Palestine The Peres Centre for Peace has been working to bring together children from both communities to play football, but above all to discover that the “other side” are not monsters but, in so many ways, are just like them.

Tackle Africa, which works across the continent delivering HIV education to youths, has developed football drills in which one player is the virus and the ball is the condom. If you have the ball you can’t be tagged by the virus. From a situation where kids could barely bring themselves to discuss sexual behaviour in public they find themselves shouting to the team mates, “give me the condom”.

The Oscar foundation has had success using football as a tool in some of the most difficult and deprived states of India. Coaches ask them: “you are one nil down after ten minutes, do you stop?” Invariably they reply, “But there are eighty minutes left, we can still score two goals”. Of course, the same goes for your education. Yes you failed that exam, yes you missed those classes, but you have the rest of your life to go and you can still get your education. Through the work of the charity, many kids from the tribal zones of Orissa and the slums of Mumbai are going back to school and scoring personal goals.

And there has been so much more: Colombianitos have been bringing young women into their football and education programmes by making sure mothers discover the joy of a kick-about themselves. MYSA from Kenya link a team’s place in the league to their engagement with rubbish collection and unblocking drains; the Special Olympics movement uses football to challenge stereotypes around kids with learning difficulties. In fact, everywhere organisations are working to nurture self-respect, build confidence, share skills and take the joys and pleasures of playing the simple game of football into the lives of communities on every continent.

Like the best games of football there has been passion and excitement at this conference, individual displays of virtuosity against a backdrop of team work and solidarity. It has been intensely serious but enormously good fun as well. The many people and programmes represented here cannot, by themselves, bring about the great reforms and the great changes that the Brazilian people are demanding. But in their small ways these representatives of the Football for Hope movement are making important contributions.