With four billion fans, football is the most popular sport in the world and in many places it’s a universal language that can unify communities from different backgrounds.
Despite the majority of elite matches being played behind closed doors over the past 12 months due to Covid-19, football continues to offer fans a form of escapism from the harsh realities of the pandemic.
The sport dominates conversations across every continent and the officiating decisions that shape the outcome of matches are often at the heart of debates and discussions.
The introduction of video assistant referees (VAR) has done little to appease disputes among fans, but for Laureus-supported programme KICKFORMORE, they have revolutionised the game by excluding referees from the action altogether.
A strong sense of community encapsulates what KICKFORMORE is all about with matches played in mixed teams and it is up to players and so-called street football mediators to find solutions if someone is breaking the rules.
Teams must meet in the ‘dialogue zone’ before matches to negotiate the fairness rules that they want to play according to, as well as discussing their fulfilment to those rules after the game. Fairness points count as much as goals scored and only those who play fair have a chance of winning.
Not having adults telling them what to do and how – but being the protagonists of all activities themselves – allows the young people to organise, moderate and reflect on what happens before, after and during the game, helping to initiate their acquisition of social skills and encouraging awareness and respect.
The phrase ‘a game of two halves’ has been synonymous with football for generations, highlighting how quickly the game can change from one team dominating the first half only to struggle in the second period, but at KICKFORMORE, football is viewed as a game of three halves with the focus on sporting integrity and fairness above and beyond the end result.
A game of three halves: KICKFORMORE by KICKFAIR
The KICKFORMORE programme is located in the southern German region of Baden-Württemberg and makes up part of the overall umbrella organisation, KICKFAIR.
With a major focus on building bridges between cultures, KICKFORMORE advances ideals of a culture of peace and non-violence, human rights, gender equality and an appreciation of cultural diversity.
Co-founder Steffi Biester is responsible for the strategic management and positioning of KICKFAIR, and Rabea Broß for the overall management of KICKFORMORE, but the day-to-day operating of its programmes are managed by youth leaders and mentors who have come through the organisation from a young age.
“KICKFORMORE works with schools to change how disadvantaged children learn and provide new ways of evaluating their talent and potential,” Biester commented. “We run a lot of workshops, and when I say ‘we’ it is not KICKFORMORE adults, it’s the youth leaders, that’s older children that have started at the ages of 9-11 within the programme and have grown into youth leaders.
“Covid-19 has impacted KICKFORMORE in many different forms, mostly negative – but there also positive aspects – such as the huge solidarity among KICKFORMORE youth. It’s been very hard for us to reach the children most at risk because they are not equipped, very few have access to smartphones or tablets and many live in cramped apartments.
“But at the same time, it’s been great to see the increased motivation and engagement from our mentors and youth leaders in response to these challenges. There was a huge creative process among the youth leaders to find solutions on how to reach and approach these children, whether that was providing them with equipment, creating motivational content, or simply by creating an atmosphere of solidarity and leaving no one behind.”
Young people are handed senior responsibilities from an early age
Concerning research released in 2019 revealed that one in four children in Germany suffers from mental illness. The divided school system means that the path of each child is determined at the age of just 10 or 11 years old, a decision not taken based on a child’s talents or strengths, but by their marks and a recommendation from their teacher.
More worryingly, several studies have shown the socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of children has a significant influence on whether they are sent to higher or lower secondary education school.
This is typified by KICKFORMORE beneficiary Mitri, a 10-year-old boy who was born in Germany after his parents had travelled from Iraq to start a new life. Difficulties with the German language meant it was challenging for his parents to find a job and with the family of seven living in two rooms, Mitri struggled to follow the school curriculum.
He was invited to take part in a street football tournament by some of the older children at school and quickly became inspired by the community feel of the programme.
One year on from joining the movement, Mitri became part of the group that organised tournaments and later went one step further to become a mediator.
Mitri was able to improve his social skills, become less aggressive, learn how to deal with frustration, solve conflicts in a constructive way, and he became more self-confident as a result.
“We see the children themselves as the key protagonists and experts of their own learning opportunities. The KICKFORMORE framework allows them to learn important skills and develop into change makers,” Biester continued.
“We apply this framework into the curriculum of schools to change how children learn, what they learn, challenge traditional roles, and provide new ways of evaluating their talent and potential.
“KICKFORMORE participants understand themselves as part of a community where everyone should find their place. They don’t want others to tell them what they need, instead they are encouraged to be the experts of their own learning opportunities.”
Laureus is a long-term supporter of KICKFORMORE having supported the programme since 2007 through the Sport for Good Foundation Germany.
German football royalty Jens Lehmann, Roman Weidenfeller, Nia Künzer, and Fredi Bobic are among the sporting greats that make up the Laureus Ambassadors, and Bobic previously visited a school in Speyer to see first-hand the impact that KICKFORMORE has on disadvantaged young people in the region.
Bobic takes part in a Laureus Sport for Good session ahead of the 2016 Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin
Bobic, who played 37 times for Germany, as well as having long spells with VFB Stuttgart, Borussia Dortmund and Hertha Berlin, commented: "In KICKFORMORE it’s not just about being fair and tolerant on the football field but in everyday life.
“In the project the children and young people learn to take responsibility and to support each other. It's like in football: alone you don’t get far; only together we are strong."
The remarkable work of the organisation has led to the project being shortlisted as one of three Sport for Development programmes in contention for the Laureus Sport for Good Award at the 2021 Laureus World Sports Awards.
For the first time ever, the three programmes have been shortlisted alongside the Nominees for the Laureus Awards to celebrate the outstanding contribution made by grassroots sports organisations throughout the pandemic.
“To be nominated for this Award is approval of what we’re doing at KICKFORMORE, not for us as adults, but for the kids,” Biester added.
“This is something that I think cannot be underestimated. The kids see themselves as the protagonists and experts of KICKFORMORE and through the programme they realise that they’re capable of doing this and they are not less worthy or less talented than their peers.
“Being Nominated for this Award is such an honour and will help to further highlight the work that we are doing at KICKFORMORE.”