The Football for Hope Movement is FIFA's vision to "develop the game, touch the world and build a better future" brought to fruition. The world's governing body has been making huge strides in using football as a catalyst for social change.
This has produced a proud partnership with the Special Olympics in Africa to empower intellectually disabled people to gain self confidence and acceptance in their society by using the positive power of football.
The Special Olympics aims to promote the acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities and give them a chance to become productive, accepted and respected members of society. According to the World Health Organisation, approximately three percent of the global population have intellectual disabilities. This translates into 190 million people who have an IQ below 70.
The FIFA-Special Olympics Africa Development Project will train coaches, involve families, and give athletes training and basic health screenings and embrace them as part of the football family. Dr Mathews Phosa, the chairman of the Special Olympics in South Africa is adamant that intellectually disabled people should "have access to football, like everyone else."
FIFA's partnership with the Special Olympics started in December 2005, with pilot programmes in Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia. FIFA wanted to be involved in human development and the partnership with the Special Olympics seemed natural.
During the first nine months, the project recruited and trained 60 coaches and involved 500 intellectually disabled players in regular training. FIFA wanted to promote football in Africa and expose more people to the game, especially those who do not have access to it. Dr John Dow Jr., the head of the African region for the Special Olympics, sees the collaboration to "use football to allow athletes to show their ability and talents on the playing field."
Dr Dow believes the pilot projects have enjoyed immense success. "The coaches got excellent training and excellent skills training for athletes. The families have got involved and it has created such a positive programme that FIFA have decided to add more countries. My hope is that through sport and exposure, we can change the attitude and the world."
Due to the success of the pilot project, seven new programmes were initiated by the partnership. South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, Mauritius, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon and Benin will launch their programmes in 2007.
Part of the Project is a Special Olympics Coach's Assistant Program, which teaches and trains intellectually disabled people to be football assistant coaches. The focus of the programme is to develop a broad range of cognitive and social skills. They also receive a small stipend to show that people with intellectual disabilities are also able to make a meaningful contribution to their families.
Football for Hope and athletes
Ephram Mohlakane is the chairperson for Special Olympics Athletes Congress and a medal winner in two Special Olympics. He told FIFA.com that through sport "people will start to give us a lot of respect, and they will see that they (intellectually disabled people) are people like them. I want to thank FIFA for supporting us. It is not about disability but about ability and I hope the Special Olympics grows. People who have intellectual disabilities are also people, and through your support, you give us power."
Football for Hope has special meaning to Lucas Radebe, the patron of the South African edition of the programme. The former South Africa national team and Leeds United captain experienced the power of football first hand. He played in a Football for Hope game organised in Barcelona, Spain for the victims of the 2004 tsunami in east Asia.
"It was amazing to be able to contribute to the cause and to donate my talent to raise awareness. It is moments like that that you cannot buy," he told FIFA.com.
Radebe believes in the impact football can have in the lives of the intellectually impaired. "I am hoping to raise awareness for this cause, especially for us, who understand the struggles of coming from a historically marginalised background."