Former Mali star Frederic Kanoute discusses how he is giving back in his retirement
Now supports a village of orphans in his homeland and a football academy in Dubai
He was a speaker at the FIFA Conference for Equality and Inclusion
By setting up a football academy and a village for orphans, former football star Frederic Kanoute is now changing the lives of hundreds of children. “They need love, care and attention,” he told FIFA 1904. “And then they will hopefully grow up to be strong and confident people with their own dreams.”
FIFA 1904: Frederic, you are in Dubai these days. What are you doing there? Frederic Kanoute: After I retired, I moved to Dubai where I set up the Kanouté Football Academy (“KAFO Academy”). Football is incredibly popular here but still very much in development. Furthermore, I really enjoy working with kids and young people in general so it was the perfect match for me. We’ve been operating for four years now, and currently we are training around 200 kids between the ages of five and 15. It has been an incredibly enriching experience for me with all of these kids from different backgrounds, learning and improving massively together.
Can you also tell us a little about Sakina Children’s Village in Mali? Where did that idea come from? The idea came about when I was in the UK in my early 20s. My education, upbringing, origins, faith and personal family experience have certainly influenced the way I see life and what I want to do with it. When I became a professional footballer, that certainly added to the sense of responsibility. After a few trips back to my father’s country, Mali, I started to feel the need to do something positive to help make a change. Whatever I was going to do, I felt that education as a whole and putting people and particularly kids first was the only way to help make a sustainable change.
What did you know about orphans? My father grew up as an orphan and I had also seen many orphans on the streets of Bamako. Then I looked at the bigger picture and decided to set up a village for the most vulnerable children and give them as much support, care and education as possible. Sakina includes accommodation with foster mothers, a kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, a skills training programme and a health centre. The schools and health centre as well as the other services are accessible to the surrounding communities. Last but not least, there is an agricultural, livestock and trade programme to help the village become self-sufficient and sustainable – which is a priority for us.
What do you think is the most important thing for orphans? The most important thing is to individually assess their needs first. There’s no such thing as “the orphans” as such, because they are all individuals, human beings with different stories and experiences, some with traumatic backgrounds. They need to receive the love, care and attention that every child is entitled to. Then they will hopefully grow up to be strong and confident people with their own dreams and aspirations, which we’ll try and help them realise and achieve.
Do the young kids know you? Yes, they know me and call me “Papa Kanouté”! They want me to spend time with them. They often ask me to go and play football with them in the middle of the village.
How often do you go there? I visit Mali two or three times a year. Sometimes for work reasons, but even then, I try to visit the village on every trip.
How many children live in the village? There are 67 children at Sakina, and the full capacity is around 150.
Do you also have to refuse requests? Sakina Village prioritises the most needy children. But Sakina and the Kanouté Foundation work and believe in the butterfly effect so we want to use our village and the organisation as a platform and incubator from which new ideas and concepts will emerge, and hopefully more people will benefit.
Do you get support from other football players? Yes, for example the Kanouté Foundation and UNICEF jointly organised the “Champions for Africa” charity football matches. When I was in Spain, we organised five annual matches which many players from European leagues and around the world happily contributed to. The success of this event was quite amazing, both in terms of publicity for the cause and the funds raised for charity.
What does destiny mean to you? That I should do my best in this life by putting my trust in God, and not worry too much about tomorrow as only He knows the outcome.
How important was your faith in the creation of the foundation? My faith has been important in every step in my life, so of course for such an important step like creating a charity, my faith was the central inspiration. As I have said in the past, faith is not only in your heart but also in your hands – you have to create it with your actions, and it has to be useful not only to you, but also to people around you.
Taking responsibility has always been important to you. Why? I never considered myself solely a footballer, football is what I do, it is a passion but it is not what I am. First and foremost, we are individuals, and as individuals we have rights, duties and most importantly responsibilities. My life as an individual, a citizen, a believer carries some responsibilities towards God and my fellow human beings. Football has helped me tremendously, as a tool, as a facilitator; it has given me a voice and the opportunity and means to reach out to more people more efficiently.
Do you think more famous people should help underprivileged people? I don’t like to say what people should or should not do. But of course, I hope people use their influence to make positive change. But generally, that has to be triggered by a change within yourself first. An awakening.
What do you think is your purpose in life? To do my best every day to get close to my Creator (God) through all the means He gave me. And as a tribute to the great Muhammad Ali I quote, “Prepare to meet God”, which is the bottom line.
How would you like people to remember you in 30 years’ time? As someone who did his best to please His Lord in spite of all his human shortcomings. Hopefully, as someone who touched other people’s lives in a positive way, starting with my own children and family.