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Where the streets have no name, the ball does not stain

Santiago Scialabba's picture
Also available in: Español
© Movimiento de Fútbol Callejero
Football as a power tool for violence prevention through social inclusion
 
2015 will be a year that football fans all over the world will undoubtedly remember. For better or for worse. It is the year Barça fans saw some of the best football players in the world – Messi, Neymar, Suarez, Iniesta - playing together and happily celebrating the Europe Champions League title. But it was also the year that once and again, 30 years after the Heysel Tragedy football was stained with violence, in and out of the court. Like when Argentinean River Plate players were attacked with tear gas during Copa Libertadores; or when the match between the Ghana and Equatorial Guinea national had to be suspended after crowd disturbances in the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals, or when a little Benfica fan had to watch riot policemen to brutally attack his father and grandfather after a title win.

2016 seems to be walking a similar path, since violence has gained once again a place in the headlines, when even football players got involved in fights during friendly pre-season matches in Argentina

But the good news are that, as the former football star Diego Maradona once said, football is one of the most nice and healthy sports in the world and although some people make mistakes, and shall pay for them (as he did), the ball does not stain. And there are many places where the ball keeps rolling clean, and football is still not only a marvelous game but also a powerful transformational force to foster social inclusion, violence prevention and gender equality.
This is what happened in the first Street Football Copa America¸ organized by the Movimiento del Futbol Callejero (Street Football Movement), where more than 200 youth got together in Buenos Aires, Argentina to play representing teams from 14 Latin American countries, boys and girls showed that can play together and Brazil was declared champion after beating Colombia by 12-9.

The Street Football Movement was born in Villa Chaco Chico, Moreno in the Province of Buenos Aires, in 1994, when clashes between groups of youth from that neighborhood and a nearby informal settlement called Bongiovani were frequent and generated several casualties. 
At that time a group of people realized that the only place where the kids from different Bandas (gangs) didn’t carry their guns were the football fields, and decided to use football as the central element of a strategy to reduce and prevent violence by combining it with other components like open dialogue and debate. This idea ended being the core of the Movement’s methodology, which according to Fabian Ferraro, its president, was one of the keys of their success.

The methodology, that is similar to the ones used by other initiatives in different parts of the world, is simple but effective. The game has three periods: the first one has ten minutes and it is used by players in both teams to agree about the rules of the game with the mediators (there are no referees); a second period of 20 minutes is used for the football match itself; and a third period of ten minutes is used by both teams to analyze together if they have respected the rules. Each team can get a maximum of three points per period and final scores are the result of the sum of goals and points.

The Street Football Copa America was not the first international championship organized by the Movement, since it already sponsored three world cups (Germany 2006, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014). In each of these events, youth from all over the world got together to play, celebrate and exchange ideas for social inclusion and violence prevention; and showed to the world that something so simple as a game can help societies to be more sustainable and resilient.  
Based on the existing evidence of positive effects that the use of sports can have in reducing violence, the World Bank Group is supporting initiatives like the one described above in many places in Latin America through wide dialogue programs as RESOL-V and J-PAL, and also through specific operations like the Safer Municipalities Project in Honduras, the Jamaica Integrated Community Development Project and the Colombia Soccer Together Technical Assistant Loan.

All these initiatives have a focus on violence prevention through social inclusion since as it is stated in the Uruguay Policy Note on prevention of Youth Violence and Social Urban Exclusion, cumulative global evidence points to the unique, integrative roles that school and local communities (and sports like football) can play in buffering young people’s exposure to risk by changing behaviors, addressing risk factors at the family, school and community level, and promoting social inclusion in a cost-effective way.

We can still change history of football and, more importantly, we can make a difference in the lives of thousands of youth all over the world if instead of focusing on business, we see the ball as something that can reach higher risk youth in contexts of violence and bring together people from different cultural backgrounds, religions and political views to build a common future. 
 

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