AN EQUAL PLAYING FIELD
Venetia van Kuffeler considers Football for Peace, a global sports diplomacy movement that uses soft power to unite hearts and minds worldwide
TEMPERS MIGHT FLARE and passions most certainly run high, but there are few sports that create the same sense of unity that football does. A sport beloved throughout the globe, and one which fosters an inherent sense of pride and excitement, football has also been long-held as a great equaliser, with players and fans alike coming from all nations and backgrounds to form a greater global community. So what greater purpose could the game serve than to foster diplomatic and international relations on a community level?
A diplomatic sports movement that uses the game to create dialogue and unite people, Football for Peace (FfP) opens cultural and geographical barriers by (quite literally) offering a level playing field for its participants and ultimately bringing them together. FfP’s aim is to influence diplomatic, social and community relations by creating neutral environments.
Established in 2006 by FIFA and Chilean legend Elias Figueroa and co-founded internationally in 2013 by British Pakistani international footballer, Kashif Siddiqi, FfP has, over the course of a decade, built a unique neutral platform on two key deliverables: ‘Peace Matches’ and ‘City for Peace’ programmes. The charity hosts Peace Matches in iconic locations, bringing together diplomats, royal patronage, community leaders, opposing countries, religious leaders and high-profile footballers to play in the name of unity. The portfolio of Peace Matches include a match on Easter Island backed by the legendary Pele, a five-a-side football match on the RFA Argus naval ship to promote reconciliation between Afghanistan and Great Britain, and most recently a women’s ‘Altitude Match’, which broke a world record.
In June over 30 women from six continents met in Tanzania to raise awareness of equality in sport. After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the women played the highest-altitude match ever approved by FIFA, at 5,429 meters — a Guinness World Record. In partnership with Equal Playing Field’s ‘Altitude Football Project,’ the event sought to challenge the inequalities women face internationally. Players from the two 11-a-side teams – Volcano FC and Glacier FC – included England international teammate Rachel Unitt, two-time Olympic Gold medallist and World Cup winner Lori Lindsey from the US, and the retired France international player Sandrine Dusang. The match was played in a crater just below the summit on a FIFA-approved pitch with full-size goals and lines marked with flour.
The teams played a full 90-minute game at an altitude almost 2km higher than the highest stadium in the world. “Sport can play a great role to challenge current mindsets, create a positive impact and better opportunities of the next generation of women. It is both the greatest leveller of difference, but it is also the greatest elevator in terms of personal achievement,” said co-founder Siddiqi. He continued: “Women the world over are breaking through prejudice and inequality on the playing field, and the Altitude Football Project is a great example of it.” Since making his debut on the international circuit and playing in the 2008 Beijing Olympic qualifiers, the charismatic ‘Kash’ has become known to many as Pakistan’s football globetrotter. He is also one of a handful of British South Asians to have made it in the UK’s professional ranks. Kash credits his achievements both on and off the pitch to his mother and faith in god. Kash’s mother is also his inspiration for FfP. Born in Uganda, Shamim Akhter came to the UK around the time Idi Amin come into power in her home country. After she wed through an arranged marriage, her family refused to allow her to adapt to Western culture and she was forced to abandon some of her children when the relationship broke down. Shamim now works through the ‘City for Peace’ programme, which educates both girls and mothers in the UK, Africa and Asia. “My mother had the courage to stand her ground and find her freedom,” says Siddiqi. “We want to ensure that is a right rather than a privilege for all women the world over,” he says.
Based from their offices in Covent Garden, FfP has a carefully considered plan of action to bring about peace and inspire a culture of greater understanding throughout communities. The work is focused on fostering integration between different groups of communities around the world. FfP aims to challenge the existing mind-sets and particularly among younger generations, creating better mutual understanding and people-to-people diplomacy. FfP align their methodology with central governments and governing bodies to intervene in sensitive areas through the ‘City for Peace” programme, which includes regions where dialogue and cohesion have deteriorated, and where hatred is in evidence.
Whether dealing with community leaders, councils or heads of state, FfP first identifies the root issues where dialogue has broken down. Secondly, the organisation uses its knowledge, experience and non-judgemental diplomacy to bring all sides together to create a forum for open and honest debate. The initiative’s success, of course, is determined by the lasting effect FfP has on individuals, communities and countries. So, students are given guidance on how to support their community by running Peace Tournaments themselves, ultimately becoming Ambassadors for Peace.
This action plan allows for easy implementation around the globe. Football for Peace doesn’t just rely on its own internal organisers to expand its reach, but also encourages others to get involved and promote their cities as Cities for Peace. By setting up a Cities for Peace system, the group can have a greater effect on both local and global scales.
Unsurprisingly for such a huge and ambitious charity project, FfP has attracted support from heads of state, footballing icons, royal patronage and the United Nations. Among some of the big names supporting the project: HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein (Jordan), HRH Duke of Cambridge – Prince William, Pope Francis, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, Ronaldinho and Pele. Most recently the charity was honoured by being recognised as a growing Philanthropic Power Brand – by Global Power Brands from Asia.
The organisation is keen to engage with different countries around the world, so do get in touch. FfP has fast established itself as one of the UK’s best charitable organisations with a strong, unifying message of positivity. Inherently recognisable regardless of culture, the project is a constant reminder that with the right sense of communication and global community, anything can be achieved.
FOOTBALL FOR PEACE
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