Erasmus+ and football – a perfect match !
Laura Anderson, Community project coordinator, Scottish Football Association
Adriana Orbea, International Project Manager, Laliga Foundation
Florin Sari, Manager, Romanian Football Federation
Hedeli Sassi, Social Responsibility Officer, Royal Belgian FA
Four national football associations, one of which represented by a foundation, were partners of the FIRE project: the FRF (Romania), the Fundación La Liga (Spain), the RBFA (Belgium) and the Scottish FA. What made them decide to join this project in the first place? And what are the benefits they will they take away from it?
For all of them, the inclusion of refugees and the social responsibility of football is a question of fundamental values. As Laura Anderson (SFA) recalls, “the Scottish FA’s decision to participate was based on our commitment to ‘Football for All’. This is an expression of our ongoing work to develop football in Scotland based on principals of equality; fairness, justice, respect, inclusion and the removal of barriers. These principles feed into everything we do.”
Interest in the project was also based on lessons learnt from past activities. Adriana Orbea refers to the Fundación’s ambitious project in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, which already demonstrates “a solid commitment to the dramatic situation that is affecting refugees. We are aware of their vulnerability and the state of defencelessness in which they find themselves, and it has made us take an active role in various projects, measures and initiatives that can help improve their living conditions and provide education for resilience and fundamental values.”
For Florin Sari (FRF): “our previous experiences, mainly regarding the inclusion of ethnic minorities, but also of persons with disabilities and in risk of social marginalization, helped us develop the proper tools of engagement.”. While the number of refugees in Romania is smaller than in other EU member states, “still people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon etc. are coming to our country to find a better future and most of them are football fans (a fact proven by the experience of the FIRE project!). We believe that integration can be promoted and mutual understanding can be encouraged if people with different backgrounds meet on the football pitch and share the joy of this great sport.
We also strongly believe in the value brought by each person to a community and also in the educational role of football, making it a strong vehicle for inclusion.”
Finally, sharing know-how and learning from each other is of course a further motivation to engage in a 30-month ERASMUS+ project. Hedeli Sassi, from the RBFA, sums it up nicely: “We had a project on including refugees in football since 2017 and when the opportunity came to work with other international stakeholders, we didn’t hesitate. This topic was and is very important to us and we wanted to learn more and contribute to the outcomes of this strong project.”
Has the project brought some tangible benefits to its partners?
It seems this is the case, on various levels. In strategic terms, for instance, as Laura Anderson testifies: “By hosting the national conference at Hampden in 2019, the project offered the Scottish FA an opportunity to engage with elements of civic society that it had not previously engaged with. This led to honest and stimulating debate on how to progress refugee and migrant inclusion within football going forward. We were also able to shine a light on the excellent work being undertaken by grassroots organisations in Scotland.”
For Adriana Orbea, the positive effect is about sustaining the dynamic: “The experiences of the collaboration will lead to the creation of a repository of initiatives that have generated a positive impact and achieved the fulfilment of the objectives – which in turn will serve to inspire other organizations that use football as a mechanism for intervention and social integration.”
On a very concrete level, one project may lead to another. Florin Sari, in the name of the FRF, was inspired to “draft and successfully submit an application for a EU-funded project dedicated to foster inclusion of refugees through football activities and civic education, starting 1st January 2021, in collaboration with the ARCA association, one of the winners of the Fare Network grants awarded in the framework of FIRE Project.”
And even on the inter-cultural level, as Hedeli Sassi (RBFA) confirms, who realised “through this partnership that the cultural and political background has automatically an influence on the approach to reach the target group.”
Same echo from Scotland: “As an organisation, we benefited greatly from seeing the different national programmes and the contexts in which they operated.” True, there is no “one-size-fits-all” recipe – the local and national eco-system must always be taken into account. Raising awareness on differences and commonalities, that’s what ERASMUS+ is for, isn’t it?
And what will the MOOC, the final deliverable of the project, bring the partners? Expectations run high:
- “A contribution to enlarge the understanding of football as a social phenomenon, with a focus on the integration of ‘others’, and also in its practical aspects, encourage project management, fundraising, organization of events, etc.” FRF
- “An opportunity to provide an easily accessible educational resource that people and organizations from any geographical area can draw on, thus providing organizations with limited resources with training that can be used in their day-to-day projects” Fundación
- “A help for local clubs and organizations in the implementation of their own contribution, with an approach based on the advice, tips and tricks we shared” RBFA
- “A valuable and practical tool to support our clubs to engage in the welcome of refugees and migrants and, in much the same way as we have benefitted from seeing different national contexts, expand their own networks” SFA
Given these expectations, the afterlife of FIRE appears to be just as exciting as the project itself has been since its inception.