2019 is set to be a watershed year for football, in particular for women and girls. The year kicked off with the Barclays Announcement that it would sponsor the Women’s Super League, the package estimated to be over £10 million is a game changer for the sport. Inevitably any year with a World Cup generates excitement, and with more significant distributors broadcasting the tournament, this will create more exposure. These are significant shifts in the sporting world and will continue to open the way to introduce new and inspiring roles models to budding sports people. If we turn our view towards a different vista, we will witness a quiet phenomenon that has the potential to create a tsunami in the world of sports. Right To Play is a global charity and a powerhouse in the field of sport.
The charity focuses on protecting a child’s right to play, reaching 1.9 million children every week. The play-based programs create space for children in poverty to experience the power of play while developing essential life skills and challenging inequality. Right To Play has programs in fifteen countries, working with 2,600 schools and 52 refugee camps. Using sport and play as a medium, the programs create learning opportunities in leadership, life, and survival skills, challenging gender-based stereotypes that are harmful to girls, improving access to education through sanitation projects in schools and overcoming sexual exploitation. It would be easy to assume that the majority of children involved in these programs are boys; in fact, 50% are girls.
The global reach of the charity is set to become even more significant with the announcement that Liverpool Football Club’s official charity, Liverpool Football Club Foundation and Right To Play are coming together to launch a global partnership to provide vulnerable children around the world with the tools and skills they need to overcome the impacts of poverty, conflict, and disease. The collaboration will focus on improving the quality of education for underprivileged children around the world, helping them to stay in school, resist exploitation and abuse, and live safer and healthier lives.
The partnership brings together two innovators and leaders in the fields of sport and play who will share their insights and expertise to create and implement high-impact programs that help children rise above adversity and empower them to learn and lead.
Matt Parish, Director of Liverpool Football Club Foundation, says: “Right To Play is a charity that shares our values and passion for creating life-changing opportunities for children, and we’re incredibly excited to get started and see what we can achieve together.”
Liverpool Football Club’s Men’s team
Work by the charity is yielding powerful results and building a leadership pipeline across different countries. Community-based projects are one of the most potent breeding grounds for female leadership, as demonstrated by the successful gender balance of women in political leadership in Rwanda (50% Source). 67% of the 32,000 teachers and coaches under Right To Play are women, and their work as coaches elevates them to become community role models. Billie Jean King, Former Wimbledon Champion and Honorary Chair of Right To Play’s Women’s Network, emphasizes the importance of sporting opportunities; “Through sport and play – winning and losing – young boys and girls, in particular, learn confidence, leadership, teamwork, and resilience.”
Zeinab Halabi, head coach in Right To Play’s Lebanese program, Generation Amazing, is a powerful example of a coach who has used her role to challenge norms. As the only woman in the Lebanese Federation of Football she is forthright about the hurdles she faces; “As a coach, it’s not easy to be a woman in a society and place where football is only meant to be played by men. I had to fight to prove myself as a female coach.” Her struggle included the breakdown of her marriage, as her husband was unhappy with her coaching; “I refused to give up being a coach. I chose to fulfill my dreams and trust myself and the skills I’ve developed as a coach.” Three of the girls in one of the teams she trains are coaches in a partnering program called Sport and Humanitarian Assistance (SAHA). SAHA is a pioneering project which mixes football training sessions for children with life skills, based in North and South Beirut with links across Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine.
The essence of success is creating opportunities for boys and girls to play and learn together and challenge norms around the rules of engagement. One particular intervention is Girls Score, a football game with boys and girls play football together; however, only girls are allowed to score the goals. Nikki Skipper, National Director for Right to Play UK, explains the importance of such an approach; “This puts girls at the heart of the team and gives them confidence. Importantly, it ensures boys pass the ball to the girls and see them as equal”. Placing girls in the center of the team requires all members to become stronger and invest in each other. Members learn essential leadership skills in collaborating by sharing responsibility for strengthening the skills and development of all members to ensure the team is more likely to be successful.
Jonathan, 16, is one of 160,000 children living in Rubavu, Rwanda. Like his peers, he grew up in a very male-dominated society with strong cultural stereotypes around men’s behavior. Jonathan grew up thinking girls were ‘useless’ and he would routinely slap girls who got in his way. Among females aged 15 to 49 in Rwanda, 48% claim to have experienced such gender-based violence. However, thanks to a Right To Play’s team-building program, he now sees girls differently. 86% of the boys on the Right To Play program like Jonathan have improved the way they relate to girls.
No-one knows more about the power of sport, play, and teamwork than Southampton Football Club player, Nathan Redmond. Redmond, an Ambassador for Right To Play, has been working to increase awareness around the impact of the charity. In April this year, he wore customized boots with the Right To Play logo and ‘We Rise’ slogan, in the football match between Southampton Football Club and Wolverhampton Wanderers where Redmond scored two winning goals. Redmond is clear about the impact of the benefits of football in building skills for children;
“Through sport, you learn about respect, hard work, and working together. I think it’s important that boys and girls learn to play together and that we see gender diversity both on and off the pitch.”
Protecting space and providing access to play is more important than ever in helping girls develop essential skills that not only improve their academic achievement but also empower them to seize new roles and opportunities for their futures.