“Football is one language” – UEFA Foundation for Children
It’s hard not to hum the Champions League theme tune whenever the topic of UEFA comes up.
The greatest club competition in the world attracts the best players on the planet. It’s glamorous, dynamic and exhilarating.
But there is a great deal more to UEFA than just its elite competitions.
The UEFA Foundation for Children was created in 2015, the brainchild of former President Michel Platini, to help vulnerable children for example through sport and football in particular in the areas of health, personal development, integration of minority and to safeguard their rights.
In light of the sharp increase in migration to Europe and the humanitarian disasters this has triggered, UEFA donated €2 million to UEFA Foundation for Children to support those most affected by the crisis, including 15 countries across Europe, using football as a tool to help refugee and migrant children.
An exhibition of the Foundation’s work highlighting the lives of children at the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, shows how football can play a key role in giving meaning to the refugee children’s everyday lives.
UEFA Foundation for Children spokesperson Tania Baima explained: “The Za'atari refugee camp is one of the biggest in the world and there are a lot of Syrian people there. We know that people stay for an average of 17 years so there are a lot of kids there who know nothing else and need some occupation.
“UEFA decided to help and to train some coaches from the refugees and also the Jordanians. We have trained over 240 people – amongst them 60 women - so that all the kids can play football in a secure place. The kids train twice a week and we have tournaments every weekend and we also built a house of sport where they can practice football and other sports safely.
“We gave some of them cameras so that they could take part in the exhibition alongside two professional photographers, so that they could help to tell the story of their own lives.
“We want to show children around the world how other kids play football. Football is one language. When we brought this exhibition in Serbia for instance, they were happy to see other kids without maybe the same possibilities playing football.”
Another project, the Just Play Programme, helps to get children back to school and encourages them to exercise to combat problems with diabetes and obesity that the communities face.
“We also tackle the issue of gender equity so boys and girls play together to show the benefits that everyone can bring into the game,” Ms Baima adds.
“We integrate minorities and especially children with disabilities because a lot of them are moved away from society and so it shows that they have potential.”
The UEFA Foundation for Children reflects UEFA’s wish to play a more active role in society, and makes use of sport to support humanitarian projects linked to children’s rights in areas such as health, education and integration.
“The Foundation deals more with the social aspect of football than the elite aspect,” concludes Ms Baima. Long may the good work continue!