Football and inclusion :
Interview with Andriy Shevchenko
On 9 May 2023, to mark Europe Day, Sport and Citizenship brought together numerous partners and over 300 participants for a day dedicated to “Sport and Refugees: a challenge for Europe’s youth”. The event featured a special guest: former Ukrainian international footballer and coach Andriy Shevchenko, who is now working alongside President Volodymyr Zelensky to rebuild his country.
After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, you launched your own platform to raise funds to support the organisations working on the ground in Ukraine. You also became the first ambassador of the United24 platform. How do you decide what to do when you’re faced with a situation like the one you’ve been in for over a year?
My only motivation is to help my country. You know, after the invasion of Ukraine, it was very clear to be in action.
The only question that mattered was how I could be useful to my country. The situation we are living through is dramatic. Every day, there is more destruction, more deaths. It’s unbelievable. My country is still suffering. So I’m taking advantage of my fame to talk about everything that’s happening, to draw attention to what my people are going through and to raise funds to rebuild and help my people.
We had the honour of welcoming you to our “Sport and Refugees” day on 9 May. We were able to highlight the role that sport can play in the process of welcoming and including displaced people, just as millions of Ukrainians around the world are experiencing. What do these issues mean to you?
Football is one of the most famous sports in the world, and football plays a special role in society. It unites people through a team game that doesn’t require much effort, just bringing people together with a ball, some rules, playing and having fun. This can build a strong relationship that helps all refugees in the world, to have an environment that allows them to feel welcomed in a society.
In Sport and Citizenship, we have a project called FIRE+ in which we support grassroots football clubs in their initiatives to include refugees. Do you think that the big European football clubs have a role to play?
Yes, I think it could be a big movement in society if everyone decides to make an effort to support these programmes. For sure, it can help a lot of refugees, a lot of people who need help and honestly, I see the positive impact of this programme for Ukraine, whether it is in the field of sports or more broadly for welcoming refugee students.
Why and how do you think professional athletes, and especially football players, should get involved socially like you?
I don’t think it’s a rule that all players must follow, it’s just a matter of personal feelings. You have to respect each other’s commitment and be moral. I think if you want to do this, there are some rules to follow to help people, to be a role model for the younger generation, because it makes life better. And this is what I want to share as well to help my country.
“My only motivation is to help my country”
From the very first days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Andriy Shevchenko supported President Zelensky by becoming United24’s first ambassador. Launched on 5 May 2022, this donation platform managed by the Ukrainian government collects funds, which it allocates to three strategic areas: defence and mine clearance, humanitarian and medical aid, and the reconstruction of Ukraine. A number of sports personalities have already got involved, including tennis player Elina Svitolina and boxing champion Oleksandr Usyk.