Football for All: Using football to break down barriers
By Chlöe O’MALLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
27 February 2013
The Irish Football Association recently hosted a seminar in Derry-Londonderry, ‘Using Football to Break Down Barriers’. Funded by PEACE III, the seminar saw presentations from the Mayor of Derry, Kevin Campbell; the head of Community Relations for the IFA, Michael Boyd; Joe Blake and Dr. Robin Wilson, alongside various other figureheads carrying out projects across Northern Ireland that use football to promote good relations.
The event invited members of the community and voluntary sectors, coaches, youth leaders and various others who are interested in using football to ‘break down barriers’. It showcased the positive ways in which football can and has been used as a tool to promote tolerance, bridge communities and offer a lifelong learning experience.
Football is deemed a ‘truly global game’: it is recognised universally and its rules are unanimous. In Northern Ireland, the sport has had contentious associations. The sport was disfigured by sectarianism and violence during the Troubles. Alongside other sports bodies, the IFA (Irish Football Association) has worked hard to detach such negative connotations from football throughout the island of Ireland. The Football for All initiative seeks to create a fun, safe and inclusive environment throughout all levels of the game in Northern Ireland.
The conference saw presentations from the NI Street League, Teenage Kickz, and Football4Peace: projects that strive to promote football as a fun and inclusive means of bringing people together and break down barriers.
The NI Street League is a football league aimed at disadvantaged groups, including refugees, the homeless, and drug and alcohol dependents. With a look to participating in the All-Ireland Street League International Championships, the league organises weekly 5-aside matches Justin McMinn and Aidan Byrne of Belfast Street League highlighted that the initiative not only helps to improve participants’ mental and physical health, confidence, motivation and sense of discipline, but society’s own perception of these marginalised groups.
Co-ordinator of Teenage Kickz and former Derry City player, Peter Hutton, gave a presentation outlining ways in which football can be used to engage young people to take part in sports and step away from anti-social behaviour. By bringing together young people from Derry-Londonderry and the surrounding areas of Donegal, Teenage Kickz coordinates peace and reconciliation workshops and uses football to break down barriers. They have enlisted a mobile football pitch that can be set-up anywhere, meaning that they are able to take football to a neutral, shared space which will encourage participation from all sides of the community. Teenage Kickz also seeks to organise workshops on weekends, particularly in the evenings when anti-social behaviour can be quite prevalent due to boredom and a significant lack of activities available.
Values don’t have boundaries.
The Football4Peace initiative incites shared values through the game of football such as trust, inclusion, respect and responsibility. They again work with young people from across Ireland, using football not only as a lifelong learning experience but to encourage personal and physical development:
“We are their present. They are our future.” – Damien McColgan – Football4Peace Ireland
The conference also saw The Nerve Centre’s John Peto launch a Football for All KS2 educational resource pack. This offers teachers task development opportunities for UICT Level accreditation. It can also be adapted for alternative settings and age groups outside the classroom. The interactive resource pack seeks to confront sectarianism and racism in football and engages pupils to challenge identity stereotypes regarding certain religious beliefs that are related to certain football teams. As an ambassador of Football for All, sports personality Colin Murray is the face of the videos that supplement the worksheets:
The seminar concluded with an informative question and answer session. The Football for All project continues to endorse and support those wishing to use football to bridge communities and engage minority groups. The FFA supports grass-root programmes and has sparked national campaigns.
It is anticipated that the ‘Using football to break down barriers’ seminar will come to Belfast on April 24th, further details to be released.