Sports can be a powerful platform for teams and athletes to create change within their respective communities or those beyond it. Time and time again, an athlete’s voice and actions can generate positive experiences for people globally. There are multiple examples of how certain players and teams either stand up for their beliefs or go beyond their means to help the communities they are part of.

A recent research conducted by New Economy Manchester found that there was an overall return on investment of £1.63 per pound (AED 8.35) earned from the Manchester City’s City in the Community disability football program – a program aimed at raising awareness of issues faced by individuals with disabilities.

The same research also found that the group’s Kicks program (with the primary objective of reducing crime and anti-social behavior among youth) provided an overall social value of £1.98 per pound (AED 10.14).

Abu Dhabi United Group owned club Manchester City is a club that was founded back in 1880 by the community, for the community. This focus is still an engrained value at the core of the organization.

“We believe that football can bring about positive social change. Today, our commitment to community in Manchester and around the world is stronger than ever,” says Mr. Tom Pitchon, Director of City Football Foundation at the City Football Group.

Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports enterprise at Salford Business School near Manchester in northwest England, says football has a central role to play in helping societies address issues of cohesion and division.

“The sport (football) has a long history of brining communities together, and of providing common identity and understanding among sometimes-disparate groups. However, football can also be incredibly divisive too; hooliganism remains an issue in some parts of the world; corruption continues to undermine public trust in the sport; whilst the avarice of some players, clubs and leagues accentuates division rather than healing it,” he says.

By placing the game at the heart of its plans, Manchester City’s Foundation has continued to use the power of football to create opportunities and build better futures – by focusing on three key themes of Health, Education and Inclusion.

“During the 2017/18 season, 40,000 young people across the city will be positively impacted by the Foundation’s programmes, through the delivery of over 50,000 sessions, the equivalent of 1 million contact hours. As well as this, £3 million is being invested back into the local community, helping people across the city get a better shot at life,” says Mr. Pitchon.

However, it’s not just in Manchester where the club’s community programmes continue to go from strength to strength. Equally important is the group’s Cityzens Giving football project – all run by Young Leaders in eighteen cities around the world, designed to address the local social issues that affect their daily lives.

All the young leaders are connected by a common goal – football, allowing them to share experiences and methodologies, encouraging peer exchange and learning across programmes and cultures.

“As the programme develops, members of staff have observed young people go on a journey of personal growth. It’s amazing to see the changes. Young people have commented that they have gained leadership skills, confidence, insight into how football can be used to address social issues, and skills which they can put into practice,” said Mr. Pitchon.

Here, in the United Arab Emirates, 2018 has been distinguished as the ‘Year of Zayed’ – honoring the nation’s late founding father Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan – aiming to highlight his role in unifying and converting the nation into one that is accepting of other cultures, tolerance, advancement and charity.

Community outreach had primarily been initiated at the club level, with efforts ranging from arrangement with club athletes to visit children at local hospitals to certain clubs honoring orphans during a half time of any given game.

However, in the past few years, UAE’s primary football league – the Arabian Gulf League – has undergone a significant change of direction on their approach towards social initiatives.

H.E Mohamed Ahmed Al Bahri Al Hamadi, PLC Executive Office member and Chair of the Community Committee within describes Year of Zayed an opportunity for everyone in the community to express their love for the late founding father, a century from his birth.

“It offers us the chance to showcase his role in creating a young nation that has become an example in development, prosperity and growth. A source of giving to the people of the world and a model for tolerance and peaceful coexistence, which made the UAE a preferred destination to live and work for all nationalities,” said Mr. Al Hamadi.

A few examples of such initiatives include the “Our Father Zayed” initiative in which the Arabian Gulf League managed to fulfill the dreams of three orphans in collaboration with the UAE Red Crescent. Then there was the MD15 dedicated to the “Our Role Model Zayed” initiative where the league expressed their gratitude to the longest-serving media professionals’ in sports media.

For those who are committed to a specific cause, it usually results in a heightened reputation – a potent statement of what they stand for in these trying times. Mr. Al Hamadi clarifies the importance to the AGL and how it helps in the longer run.

“It is important for us to engage all walks of society in football and involve players in humanitarian and charity work. Football is more than just a game; it is a message to the community delivered by every member of the AGL system. Last season, when we engaged various sections of our community in the ‘Year of Giving’ initiatives, we were delighted with the joy of a child, the smile of a participant and the emotions of a player. We sent a message that football isn’t just about scoring a goal or winning a trophy. It is a humane message above everything,” said Mr. Al Hamadi.

The general aim of any organization interested in genuinely and positively impacting a cause is to do so while amplifying the notion of shared value from top to bottom, involving all stakeholders.

The elements driving football clubs to pursue a social agenda are fairly coherent to what we observe across the corporate world; however, the only difference between the two on the setting of strategies and implementation of core objectives with goals structured to reach those.

“At the PLC, we are keen on connecting communities through football, building more channels of communication in line with our 2017-2020 strategic plan in terms of boosting professionalism, engaging followers, including all parts of the community, spreading the culture of sport ad many more objectives,” says Mr. Al Hamadi.

Similarly, Manchester City’s core objective when it comes to public relations is to use the power of football to bring a positive change to communities in Manchester and around the globe.

“With the support and engagement from our passionate fans, we are using the ‘football effect’ to promote health, confidence, safe spaces and pathways into training and jobs for young people in Manchester and around the world,” explained Mr. Pitchon.

Although social outreach efforts across football clubs have significantly increased over the last decade or so, it continues to be a force for social good. It is becoming of increasing relevance as we look for the legacy of major sports facilities, clubs and activities for their communities as we move towards the future. More specifically, football clearly performs a social role, and this is something that clubs should acknowledge and embrace.

“In terms of football’s roots, clubs need to remain aware of their social origins and moral obligations; in commercial terms, most 21st century corporations see corporate social responsibility as a keystone of their operations; and in political terms, football is widely seen by governments as a positive influence on relations with other countries. All of this suggests a new, more important role to come for football clubs in the future,” says Mr. Chadwick.

While it’s clear that being social responsible does not necessary translate into solving world’s problems, Manchester City will continue to take the role of social change agents utilizing it for further growth and development of the game as concluded by Mr. Pitchon.

“We will continue to grow our impact and empower young people’s lives through football.”

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