Kick4Life at the Football for Hope ForumKick4Life Cofounder blogs about the Football for Hope forum in Brazil...
For a split second there was absolute silence as the capacity crowd, overwhelmingly yellow-clad Brazilians, anticipated the opening chords of their national anthem. The music started and the people remained standing, poised for their moment to accompany the rousing march. And then is began, the collective voice of 50,000 Brazilians raised in the most passionate chorus I have ever witnessed. On the big screen I saw Tiago Silva, Brazil’s captain, moved to tears, and the shortened version of the anthem could not stop the crowd from completing their song, as the remaining verses reverberated around the Mineirão. No band required.
Later that night, on the way back to the hotel and from my 13th floor window, the sights and sounds of Belo Horizonte were markedly different: army trucks transporting troops to the front-line, youths running through the street, the booming fire of tear gas and the voice of the people, this time raised in collective protest.
These two experiences may seem at odds with each other, yet in my fleeting but event-filled trip to Brazil, I saw enough to suggest otherwise. I was struck by the level of economic and industrial activity, a country seemingly in transition, on the verge of a great turning point in development and progress. Numerous quarries carved into the cityscape, freight carriers, cranes and diggers, buildings going up alongside the bustling favelas perched on hillsides, all signs of a country on the move. On every main street hundreds of people queue for buses which are packed like the London tube at rush hour, passengers standing in the aisles and clinging to the overhead bars. The 10% increase in bus fares which instigated the nationwide protests clearly affected many people.
With such unprecedented social change, characterized by great opportunity and challenge, it is perhaps no surprise that the joy of the stadium sits alongside the frustrations of the street. Democracy was hard and recently fought here, and political apathy, even in a time of low unemployment and growth, is not on the agenda.
I was in Brazil for the Football for Hope Forum, an event organized by FIFA alongside the Confederations Cup, to celebrate and support the ongoing development of their use of football for social change around the globe. The Confederations Cup is a trial run for next year’s World Cup in Brazil which is of course another key factor in the current, largely peaceful, protests. A hand written cardboard sign at the airport said, ‘We don’t want the World Cup, we need better health services and education.'
The Forum did not shy away from the issue, and on the opening day there was a vibrant debate. Many Brazilian speakers said the protests were a good thing, a sign that people wanted to improve their country and to tackle corruption. FIFA representatives also highlighted the role that football, and the presence of the World Cup, has played in bringing about this push for social and political improvement.
There were also critical voices, particularly relating to the cost of stadium construction, funded by tax payers while bus fares go up and many public services remain poor. Wilfried Lemke, the UN Special Advisor for Sport, Development & Peace, also criticized FIFA for pressuring the Brazilian government to change the law, enabling alcohol to be served inside stadia.
But Lemke and many others also highlighted the wonderful achievements of Football for Hope in supporting more than 100 organizations around the world to deliver high quality programs for disadvantaged people. At Kick4Life we can certainly testify to this. Our organization and the impact of our work has been transformed by the development of the Lesotho Football for Hope Centre, enabling us to reach many more children with health education and testing, literacy skills, mentoring and the chance to play sport. It has also helped us to improve the financial sustainability of Kick4Life through a growing range of social enterprises – the topic of my presentation at the Forum. The centre in Lesotho is just one of 20 in Africa which will continue the legacy of the 2010 World Cup for decades to come.
It seems to me that the cost of the World Cup in Brazil has helped to spark a reaction to much deeper and longer-term social challenges in Brazil. We had a similar, if less mobile, response to the Olympics in the UK last year, but once it arrived it was enthusiastically embraced by nearly everyone. I hope that despite some of the valid responses to the challenges of hosting a World Cup, the people of Brazil will likewise get behind the tournament and use it as a springboard for the next exciting phase for their country.
One thing is for sure, football has been thrust once again into the heart of the social, economic and political arena, and there has never been a more exciting time to be involved in the world of Development Through Football.