How the FIFA Foundation helps refugees through football

20 Jun 2021

On 20 June annually, the United Nations recognises the struggles and bravery of refugees on UN World Refugee Day. The date is designed to raise awareness and strengthen public understanding of what refugees go through on a daily basis, and to focus on constructive ways to help them.

As part of its commitment to using football as a vehicle to change and improve people’s lives, the FIFA Foundation works closely with several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to help refugees through football.

Through its Community Actions Programme the FIFA Foundation helps 169 NGOs in 78 countries with grassroots operations reaching thousands of people worldwide.

Speaking about its work with NGOs to support refugees, FIFA Foundation CEO Youri Djorkaeff said: “At the FIFA Foundation our mission is simple, we want to use football to make a positive impact on lives and society. We are proud to support Open Field, RheinFlanke and Kicken ohne Grenzen because they play such an important role in making refugees feel at home through football.

“Their activities and programmes are vital in supporting and guiding refugees as they integrate into a new culture and society. Football is a universal language, it provides opportunities and hope to those in need. The FIFA Foundation is committed to using football as a tool to help people make their hopes and dreams a reality.”

Open Field – USA

Open Field uses football to teach life skills to refugee, immigrant and American-born minority young people, living in low-income and marginalised communities in Pittsburgh.

Its leaders are teenagers who have been trained by the project and now serve as coaches and referees to mentor younger children involved in the initiative. As result, youth participants learn from peers coming from similar cultural backgrounds, living in their neighbourhood.

Speaking about their approach, founder and CEO Justin Forzano said: "The two main barriers which prevent kids from participating in organised soccer are cost and transportation. Their families might not have a car or their parents might be using it to go to work, so we are filling a void. We show them how you can thrive in Pittsburgh; it's not only about playing soccer. It is also about providing a bridge to a better future."

RheinFlanke - Germany

The main objective of Rheinflanke is to give young refugees, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and conflict areas in Africa, a foothold in the labour market and the chance to integrate into society.

It runs a project entitled H.O.P.E. which aims to help the participants integrate in society. Through H.O.P.E a football team named Spielvereinigung Arminia 09, was established and now plays in the eleventh tier of the German football pyramid.

"We developed our project because, after the wave of refugees arrived in 2015 and 2016, we had a lot of people living in initial registration facilities or hotels with nothing to do, and our idea was to give them a safe space where they meet friends, have fun and learn sports," said Elena Pifeas of Rheinflanke.

Since then the programme has helped over 1,000 refugees in two centres, in Cologne and Berlin. The project also runs teams at youth levels and all its activities are based on three key areas: sport, adapting to life in Germany and job coaching.

Kicken ohne Grenzen – Austria

One of the biggest problems facing refugees who request asylum is the waiting process, which can take several years, to become integrated in the education system and job market.

"The wait here can be five or six years and this can be really frustrating. It is hard to stay motivated and keep your self-esteem or work on your future plans," said Karina Lackner of Kicken ohne Grenzen (Football without Borders) in Austria. "If you sit at home with nothing to do, this can be damaging for young people."

Kicken ohne Grenzen utilises football training and workshops to develop soft skills, helping develop teamwork, self-confidence and leadership, essential skillsets for developing their careers.

Outlining Kicken ohne Grenzen’s method of using football as a tool to teach life skills Karina Lackner said: "Football provides an easy way to communicate when you don't speak the language and feel welcome and safe in a community. It's an easy way to explain motivation, goal-setting, frustration tolerance and decision-making. Football is a very practical way of teaching soft skills."

In addition to these initiatives Kicken ohne Grenzen organises an annual football tournament that brings together at least 300 participants to play in 24 mixed teams.