Azeem Maherali and other Football For Peace US Steering Committee members discuss their combined approach of grassroots community programmes with high-level diplomacy
CAN FOOTBALL SAVE LIVES AND CHANGE THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER? WE THINK SO!
At Football for Peace, we are convinced that now, more than ever, the beautiful game – football – can be a transformative force for good, starting with the youth as ambassadors of peace and positive change.
We are all global citizens in an ever-more interconnected world. What happens in one part of the world can quickly impact us all, as COVID-19 illustrated. With so much knowledge about our shared values and what unites us, it is ironic that there are so many divisive forces that fracture our communities. Intolerance is rampant and our differences – our true strength – are not respected nor accepted.
Thus, it’s no surprise that the great conversation of our time is about creating a fair, equitable, and better world for all. Within our diversity lies the strength of pluralism – a cosmopolitan ethic informing enlightened perspectives, fresh ideas, and solutions to complex issues that can heal the world and repair the fissures. The UN’s 17 SDG goals are meant to help us achieve that parity, a transformative promise by 2030 to fulfil the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
Recent events in the United Stateshave brought these unfulfilled ideals back in sharp focus. There is an urgent need to bridge human divides everywhere and bring permanent, sincere healing. Sports, especially football, which engages four billion people worldwide, can connect and bridge, laying a foundation for saving lives and changing the world for good. Recognising this, Football for Peace has the goal of creating a million youth peace leaders worldwide by 2030.
The world’s imagination and psyche have been arrested with video clips and images of police violence, racism, and killings of Americans of African ancestry. US public opinion continues to be inflamed by racism in many forms including mass incarceration, voter suppression, and police abuse and killing of Americans of African ancestry. Since the murder of George Floyd by police on 25 May 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement has found echoing voices (and screams) around the world. Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who were enslaved in the US, reminds us that slavery may have ended but racism has not, and other forms of human enslavement – human trafficking, debt bondage, forced labour – continues undeterred. These traumatic experiences, and many more that go undetected, affect our mental health.
ALL LIVES CAN’T MATTER UNTIL #BLACKLIVESMATTER – A GLOBAL RESPONSE
Only after the recorded killing of George Floyd and the uprisings in all 50 states have many venerable institutions in America started acknowledging the legitimacy of the Black Lives Matter movement against systemic racism, inequity and the police killing of unarmed Americans of African ancestry.
Take the National Football League (NFL) as just one example. In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested “systematic oppression” and police brutality against Americans of African ancestry by taking a knee during the national anthem. After three years, Kaepernick’s protest for social justice and equality is now becoming a movement. His gesture has become a symbol for the resolution of social injustices around the world. In 2018, Nike made Kaepernick the face of the social justice campaign, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
More than 200 players in the NFL and other sports have followed his example in a long tradition of sports stars standing up for human rights, despite pressure from fans and public figures telling athletes to ‘stick to sports.’ Many have endured death threats and loss of income and sponsorships.
It was not until 5 June 2020 that the NFL acknowledged the issue. Commissioner Roger Goodell released an 81-second statement, noting: “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong [and] believe Black Lives Matter… The protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening.”
Peaceful protests held in the US found amplified support in more than 40 countries around the world. In the UK, Premier League players sent a powerful message of unity and solidarity as opposing teams came together when the season restarted on 17 June by taking the knee before the matches started. In another compelling display of unity and solidarity, ‘Black Lives Matter’ will replace player names on the back of shirts for the first 12 matches of the restart.
The global response to these events clearly shows that we are one interconnected global people with a heightened awareness of global ills. Football for Peace in its mission for social justice aims to connect the people of the world through football. An example is its programmes on peace and gender equality in Kashmir, a global hotspot. Another example is its young peace ambassadors programme held in Birmingham that was recognised by HRH Prince William and United Nations officials in 2015 as an effective way to bring young people from different faiths and cultural backgrounds together.
Youth sports programmes enriched with peace programmes and life skills offer knowledge bridges to young people preparing them to tackle social justice, equality, poverty, climate change and water issues.
DIPLOMACY FOR HUMANITY – CALLING FOR A HIGHER PURPOSE
The Global Centre for Pluralism in Canadaoffers compelling thought leadership to extend the remit of diplomacy beyond geographical borders to one that centres on the creation of successful societies. The Centre’s vision is a world where human differences are valued, and diverse societies thrive. These are precisely the areas where Football for Peace makes the greatest contribution.
Football for Peace aspires to use the platform of football to bring about peace for all peoples and the planet. We bring people together through our various programmes to foster better understanding and build resilient communities. The initiatives combine the power of grassroots community programmes focused on our global youth with high-level diplomacy focused on changing policies. We combine peace programmes with peace matches, ‘City for Peace’ projects, and sports diplomacy toolkits with diplomatic efforts, to influence social change. The process focuses on community integration, reducing tensions between different groups, and creating a dialogue between nations. It is about upholding the dignity of all human beings.
Over the years, Pele, Ronaldinho, Mesut Ozil and several other footballers in addition to HRH Prince William, HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, Presidents Joko Widodo of Indonesiaand George Weah of Liberia, have been key supporters of our various programmes. In 2016, our co-founder, Kashif Siddiqi, was invited to meet Pope Francis and launch ‘Sport at the service of Humanity’ at the Vatican. Last year on the side-lines of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, in partnership with UN missions of Qatarand the US, UN Office of Counter-Terrorism and Football for Peace, a high-level meeting was held to discuss ‘Promoting the Power of Sport to Prevent and Counter Violent Extremism.’
As Football for Peace’s global footprint enters the US, our programmes and projects aim to address social justice and other issues and build upon the lessons learned from successful intervention in Chile, France, India, Liberia and the UK.
Football for Peace is uniquely positioned at both grassroots and diplomatic levels offering a full spectrum of programmes to bring about positive change, and that is why through the platform of football we can save lives and change the world for the better.