Bernardo M. Villegas
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Forming the Youth Through Football (Part 3)

          Another non-profit, non-government organization dedicated to using sport and the power of play to inspire, empower and transform the lives of children affected by extreme poverty, natural disasters and armed conflict is the Football For Humanity (FFH) led by founder Chris Thomas, a British national.  FFH initiatives include building football infrastructures such as its existing unique small-sided, five-a-side enclosed spaces.  It also establishes football development programs, conducts one-off football trainings and events, donates old and new football equipment, assists talented but underprivileged youth to seek scholarships, and other charitable initiatives that may be implemented by its partners who are themselves NGOs engaged in social development programs all over the country.  Like the THVMF, FFH tries to partner always with other foundations involved in community building.  For example, FFH launched what it calls Play for Goals, an expanded community development program which, in addition to the building of a community small-sided pitch, also provides library and a clean water facility that addressed the educational health and well-being needs of the community.  For this project, FFH partnered with Library Renewal Partners and Waves for Water in bringing these facilities to marginalized communities all over the Philippines, starting with Zonta Village in Barangay Tibungco, Davao City.

         Football for Humanity has strong international connections.  Recently, it received donations of “unpoppable” soccer balls from One World Play, the creator of the unpoppable balls which serve as a “solution for kids living in harsh conditions where standard soccer balls do not last long.”  One World Play has distributed over 2 million balls benefitting over 60 million youth whose lives are empowered and enriched by playing football.  This initial donation is currently being distributed through individuals and organizations who lead football development programs for Filipino youth.  Football for Humanity was also the recipient of 2,020 durable balls from Expo 2020 Dubai which launched a campaign that includes a video starring Expo 2020 global ambassador Lionel Messi, arguably the best soccer player in the world today (disclosure:  I am an eager fan of FC Barcelona).  In his role as Ambassador for Expo 2020 Dubai, Messi echoes part of the message of Pope Francis about the value of sport in human development: “A football team can only succeed by working together, and the same is true of humanity.  When people from different nations, cultures and backgrounds come together, we can better address global challenges and create a brighter future for generations to come.”  FFH Head Chris Thomas is of one mind with both Expo 2020 Dubai and Pope Francis: “These are the very same values we promote in Football for Humanity, were our credo is ‘Bringing nations together.’  It is very inspiring and motivating to be part of a movement that cuts across countries, regardless of race or creed, to promote that dream of unity,”

         Bell Tiongco, co-founder of FFH, expresses her gratitude to Expo 2020 Dubai: “Football for Humanity is very fortunate, and thankful to be able to be the channel which can bring the joy, and the power of football, to thousands of Filipino youth.  These donations, these projects are a testament to the goodness of the human spirit. We are very proud to be associated with individuals and organizations, here and abroad, who build, who uplift, who reach out to inspire and motivate in the midst difficulty and suffering.  Football does bring hope.” 

         In the best seller book entitled Soccernomics, authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, provided strong empirical evidence that one of the requirements for nations to excel in international tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympics is for their players to be exposed to the best practices by playing in the best clubs in the world.  In football, most of the leading clubs today are in Europe but other countries are slowly catching up.  In fact, in the latest edition of the book Soccernomics (2018), the sub-title reads “Why England loses, why Germany, Spain and France win; and why one day Japan, Iraq and the United States will become kings of the world’s most popular sport.”  Football for Humanity is doing the country a favor by making it possible for a Filipino national football player, Shanden Vergara, to be exposed to the best players in the U.S.   For the coming Fall semester of 2019 in the U.S., Shanden will enroll in Snow College, Utah, after being sourced by Sports Recruiting SA (SRUSA), a partner of FFH.  SRUSA’s founder, Chris Cousins, said that Shanden was selected “not only because of his obvious fantastic football abilities but also because of his desire to succeed.”  Shanden is one of only 50 recruits from all over the world, a testament to the world class standard of his skills.  When asked about what was required to develop into an international athlete, Cousins replied: “I am a firm believer that nothing magical happens in your comfort zone.  So stepping out and opening new doors will only bring new things and opportunities in life.”  Cousins is of the firm belief that there are other potentially talented Filipino athletes who can compete on a global level.  Foundations like THVMF and FFH are doing much to enable these talented Filipino youth to get the necessary training and experience, especially through futsal, so that in due time they can be discovered by international scouts like SRUSA.   (To be continued).