It is a fact that football generally can open doors and reach out to people who need help most. So does the sport, moreso, the T&T Pro League have a responsibility to use this power in a positive way? And what is already being done to harness this unique appeal? These were the chief discussions held over three days last week as the TTFA hosted a Strategic Workshop with top officials from UEFA including the organisation’s head of international relations Eva Pesquier.
Sport can help get you out of miserable conditions too and let’s be honest, many complain these days about the miserable conditions in the country today, the world at large. As a child you don’t think about whether you are rich or poor, you just wanted to play. The T&T Pro League from senior football to the youth leagues allows an avenue for playing and aspiring to play at the highest level. You are on a level ground when you play football as a child – it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, if you’re good, you play.
One of the points agreed by all during the workshop that football clubs should formally recognise their social role and adopt it as one of their core purposes, honestly examine how well they are meeting that aim, and strive continually to improve their relationships with supporters, local authorities, residents and businesses.
Research done in England conducted via interviews with chief executives of 10 clubs, ranging from a Premier League club to much smaller, mutually-owned clubs in semi-professional football, and in-depth case studies all with agreed anonymity found a unanimous view that football clubs are institutions of social value.
Conducting a bit of my own limited research here, a view of some Supporters' was most striking. When I asked supporters what they would value about their team, it was not so much about their success on the field, or whether it was in profit or not, but their importance within their family, social and community life is what stood out. This is an area the Pro League definitely needs to tap into big time.
Given this popularity, footballers play a significant role in shaping society and the clubs can use this to their benefit. . It is proven that social projects undertaken by clubs and players can have a major positive impact on the lives of children, reducing the high risk of school drop out, criminality, drug addiction, and social exclusion.
The ingredients of the league and local football on a whole are excellent instruments for balancing education and development of personal values and skills at any age. As a team sport and a competitive activity,it also promotes teamwork habits and techniques, a culture of hard work, respect for opponents, management of success and failure, etc. This can consistently produce better citizens in society because with ten clubs at let’s say a thirty-player roster plus minimum ten staff, you are looking at four hundred plus individuals being affected. We haven’t counted the Super League clubs. Add to that close family members or friends who can benefit from the experience and humanity skills gained by their breadwinners and by now surely the numbers in society are impressive enough to have significant impact.
But with the demands combined with expectations, UEFA stressed that whether it be Government or Corporate support extended, there will be a level of accountability and value expected in return.
Resilient social change requires sincerity in understanding local needs and appreciation for what already exists and thrives in a community, and working within this framework towards locally owned solutions and results. The Pro League by all accounts, has indicated it is fully aware of this.
There are a range of ways in which clubs might commit to having a positive impact in their communities – and some of them are already practicing, but need to sustain them. The time for one offs is gone. do some of them already. They include developing local transport plans, supporter volunteering schemes with potential rewards or benefits, opening club facilities to disadvantaged groups, operating preferential local employment and taking the game to the fans who in turn can show at the venue and get more than 90 minutes of football. Make it something that will leave 'em wanting more. Time to get the ball rolling!
Video - Eva Pasquier, John-Williams delivers opening remarks at UEFA/TTFA Strategic Workshop