Football and Social Integration. Aspen Sports and Society Dialogues

Aspen Institute Romania, The Romanian Football Federation and Policy Center for Roma and Minorities organized a roundtable event on February 21, bringing together some of the most experienced and relevant actors in the field of sports and social integration. The objective of this brainstorming was to provide guidance on how the most popular sport in Europe can shape a better future for a generation of children and young man and women.
As we all know, football is the most popular sport in Europe (gathering large numbers of people both in stadiums and in front of TV sets). Given this popularity, footballers play a significant role in shaping society. It is proven that social projects undertaken by football players can have a major positive impact on the lives of children, reducing the high risk of school dropout, criminality, drug addiction, and social exclusion.

On the other hand, in Romania, the involvement of football clubs in the poorest communities is rare or accidental, despite the fact that an important number (if not the majority) of the football fans come from these communities. The involvement of private companies and businesses in promoting football at the level of grassroots is also limited at best, despite the popularity of football and the increased need of better presence in the populous poor areas. This is particularly evident in small and remote communities as well as areas plagued by socio-economic underdevelopment.

All around Eastern Europe and especially in Romania, one can witness a dramatic decrease in recreational and organized football activity. There is a significant decrease in the numbers of children playing football, but exceptionally strident is the situation of children coming from poor background that end up playing professional football. While in the past the majority of the football players came from poor and very poor families, nowadays the majority of children playing organized football come from middle and high-income families. The result is that an important number of talents are never discovered and the pool of possible professional players is shrinking fast. Also, this has negative effects on the healthcare of the general population as recreational football offers a relatively cheap and accessible way of exercising. Given the worrying rate of child obesity and other nutrition or lack of exercise related chronic diseases, this should play an important role in promoting mass sports.

Through this brainstorming session, we plan to work for the development of the best football generation yet in Romania. At the same time we aim to impact the overall sports and social participation of a generation of children and their communities. Our long-term goal is to create a generation that is socially responsible and involved in improving the Romanian society. We believe we can build a new generation of footballers and sportsmen that can become positive and inspirational leaders for every social class.
Participants included H.E. Johannes HendrikMatteus van Bonzel, Ambassador of the Netherlands Embassy in Bucharest; Alexandru Dragomir, Business & Communications Manager, Decathlon; Doru Frolu, Vicepresident, The Ivan Patzaichin Mila 23 Association, C─ât─âlinMitulescu, President, Strada Film; Roxana Nedelcu, Director Educational Department, The City Hall of the Fifth District, Bucharest; Valeriu Nicolae, Policy Center for Roma and Minorities; Rhys Osborne, Head of Registry, British Embassy Bucharest; Piara Powar, Director, Football Against Racism in Europe; Daniel Prodan, Director International Programs, The Romanian Football Federation; Onno Rombouts, Managing Director, Heineken Romania or Mircea Sandu, President, The Romanian Football Federation.  The combined efforts can become the foundation of our actions in building a new generation of footballers and sportsmen, which can become positive and inspirational leaders of our society.

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