One of the most iconic footballing cities in the world, Manchester played host to the inaugural FIFA Diversity Award at the Soccerex Global Convention, where India’s Slum Soccer were recognised for their outstanding work in promoting diversity and anti-discrimination in and through football.
Up against other fantastic initiatives Kick It Out and International Gay and Lesbian Football Association (IGLFA), Slum Soccer were chosen by a high-profile 11-strong jury comprising global experts in tackling discrimination and renowned figures from world football, including Abby Wambach, Moya Dodd, Piara Powar and Tokyo Sexwale to name but a few.
At a ceremony hosted by Manchester-born CNN anchor Amanda Davies, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura was at the renowned convention to personally present the award, as well as ‘11 for Diversity’ jury members Thomas Hitzlsperger, former Germany captain, and FIFA Legend and four-time UEFA Champions League winner Clarence Seedorf.
Following on from a day of football celebration at Manchester Central Convention Complex, the ceremony included a thoughtful discussion on diversity in sport and furthered highlighted the beautiful game’s incredible power to tackle discrimination in all of its guises.
“I was delighted when I heard from FIFA and they told me what they were planning to do and asked me to be part of the ‘11 for Diversity’ jury,” said Hitzlsperger, capped 52 times for Germany as a player. “All three finalists have done a fantastic job. They engage and use football as a tool to bring people together and bring down barriers.
“What inspired me most about the finalists was that they had the endurance to keep on going, overcome hurdles and never give up.”
“Football has that power to unite and show the world how we’re all integrated by football,” said Dutch legend and fellow jury member Clarence Seedorf. “We need to lead by example and at this moment, FIFA is doing that. We are united in the fight for a better and more diverse future.
Of the finalists, the former Real Madrid and AC Milan star added: “I looked at the impact it had on the community and the impact that it had on the next generations, empowerment of next generations. I want to congratulate the organisations for the great job that they do.
“It’s important to acknowledge the great jobs these people are doing every day and helping the world to become more diverse.”
Using football as a tool of social empowerment to transcend race, religion, language and gender barriers, Slum Soccer promotes the development of the most marginalised sectors in India and are committed to fighting homelessness and improving living conditions in disadvantaged areas. The organisation’s approaches are centred on building self-sufficient communities and in the last 10 years, 70,000 men, women and children have benefited from livelihood training, healthcare workshops and more.
Slum Soccer, like IGLFA and Kick It Out, were selected as finalists from a 100-strong shortlist of organisations across the world and their continued commitment of promoting diversity saw them presented with the inaugural award.
“For the past 14 years, Slum Soccer has worked primarily with socially excluded youths and we use football as a tool to engage with them,” said Abhijeet Barse, who received the reward on behalf of the organisation. “Most of these participants come from very marginalised areas and we want to make sure they are part of society.
“We use football to give them a platform, engage with them and slowly channel them back into society. Once you have their attention through football, it’s easier to pass on messages. With the award, it makes us feel that the work that we’ve done so far is reaching people.”
The inspiring work of finalists IGLFA and Kick It Out were also recognised with certificates, which were presented on stage by ‘11 for Diversity’ jury members Seedorf and Hitzlsperger.
“Kick It Out is about education and working with every single bit of the game – from grassroots to professional clubs,” said Roisin Wood. “We focus on every single bit of the game and try to show what diversity really means. Football is a powerful, powerful tool and we try to use the power of football to engage with people.
“I think we saw clarification here today, I spoke to the FIFA sustainability and diversity team and I’m reassured about what I’ve been told about inclusion and diversity."
“IGLFA has two parts to its mission,” said Ben Briggs. “For over 25 years we’ve been putting on tournaments across the globe, working with over 100 teams to provide a safe space to LGBT athletes who want to play football together in pursuit of equality for everyone.
“The other part of what we do is work and focus attention on players and teams in parts of the world where it’s not okay to be yourself, where there’s challenges for personal safety and where persecution is an all too daily occurrence.
“Football is a mass participation sport and in mass participation sports, you reflect society, so there’s problems with homophobia and discrimination more widely within society. We’re making progress, in tackling and stamping out homophobia.”
Jury member Hitzlsperger concluded: “This is the first time this award has been presented and I hope that there’s more to come. FIFA is the governing body of football and people look up to FIFA and if they come out with a statement like: ‘We are rewarding people for diversity’ I think it’s a strong statement and I’m glad to be a part of it.”