Football uniting communities
by Raquel GOMEZ for Shared Future News
14 June 2018
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” –Nelson Mandela
Football, the sport that arouses great passions all over the globe, can be a useful tool in empowering and developing communities, and in promoting peace, reconciliation, and cross-community work.
According to Alan Bairner (author of “After the War? Soccer, Masculinity, and Violence in Northern Ireland”), football in Northern Ireland reflects the political divisions that were established by partition. In this way, sport is a form of cultural identity.
Football can underline societal divisions, or be a conduit to overcome them. Organisations such as the Irish Football Association (IFA) have a wide range of projects with the objective of bringing an integrative and peaceful future to Northern Irish communities.
Sport Uniting Communities is a project delivered by the IFA along with the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and Ulster Rugby. The aim is to promote positive relations and celebrate culture and diversity, bringing people together. Through multisport events, workshops, and programs, Sport Uniting Communities crosses the divide to build new relationships. The activities are organised on education, training, empowerment and leadership, directed to volunteers, clubs, and young people across the counties of Ulster. This program is supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).
In addition, the IFA delivers Stadium Community Benefits Initiative (SCBI), along with Belfast City Council and the Department for Communities. This initiative focuses on bringing benefits to the community by maximising the potential of Windsor Park. SCBI aims to support and increase participation in football clubs, encourage wellbeing and healthy lifestyle choices, and improve community engagement through schools, clubs, and youth organisations.
Following the aim of integrating through sport, the IFA’s motto “Football for all” emphasises that football should be available for everyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or religion; football should be free of sectarianism or discrimination. In this vein, the football pitch becomes in a place where barriers come down, encouraging people to enjoy playing together.
Sport, and football particularly, can have a powerful impact in society. Using that power on our pitches and in our sporting arenas could bring a future where players will win the higher match through integration, respect, and shared values.