Jens Lehmann, the former Arsenal and Germany goalkeeper, was the patron of the Laureus Sport for Good Jam, held in Berlin on the eve of the Laureus World Sport Awards.
The Jam allowed some of the sporting legends who form the Laureus Academy to promote its wider message: Sport for Good.
Kids from the neighbourhood, mostly from immigrant families, often low-income, had opportunities to pick up and participate in sport that would otherwise be unavailable to them. On a skateboard ramp, in a boxing ring and on the football pitch they played – sometimes with the most unlikely team-mates.
Players included some of the members of Kicking Girls, the project of which Lehmann is patron. It brings together girls from this community and provides skills not just in football, but in life. Its success has led to its export to over 100 centres across Germany and it has a characteristically committed advocate in Lehmann.
“The project is very relevant because of the refugee crisis across Europe and in Germany,” he said. “We’ve found that we can help kids from different cultures who don’t always have the money to buy kit and equipment. There can be other cultural burdens – maybe some of their fathers don’t want their daughters to be coached by a male coach, so we have mostly female coaches, who we instruct.
If some of the girls aren’t doing so well in school, they can gain confidence in our programme, in football, and some of them take the opportunity over the years to become coaches themselves. That gives them a great boost in their lives, and it’s something they perhaps aren’t getting from their home or school backgrounds.”
Two of the players at The Base were the regular coaches of the programme and proof of Lehmann’s faith in its potential for change. Sinem and Lara are both 20 years old, and spend their afternoons dropping into schools to play soccer with girls, and tell them about Kicking Girls.
Sinem said: “These girls have a contact person now in terms of football. They come to us and ask if they can join and so we are getting more and more players.”
“Our girls are more self-confident on the schoolyard,” added Lara. “When I come to the school they are running towards me and tell the boys: ‘Look. That's my football coach. I play with her.’ And they show me some tricks to prove something in front of the boys. Because they play in a team and they can rely on the other girls they are more self-confident on the streets as well.”
On the other side of the pitch, a raucous group of boys and young men also includes Fredi Bobic: former Germany striker and patron of another Laureus-supported project, Kick For More.
“When I see these kids I see my past,” said Bobic, who was capped 37 times by Germany. “My parents were immigrants from former Yugoslavia. My neighbourhood was 95% immigrants, and sport gave me a chance. If someone here doesn’t know my history then I tell them my story. That makes a connection and then the age difference is no barrier. I’ve known these kids for four or five years, I’ve seen them grow up. My experience with them has given me so much.”