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Just men playing football? The World Cup is so much bigger than that...

It happens every four years. Men in shorts and tight jerseys from all over the globe step on a grass field and battle out who is best. Four weeks later, one team lifts a trophy and the next day we all move on. Thankfully, we leave something behind.

The biggest misconception about the World Cup is that it is not much more than a seemingly never-ending commercial marketing campaign that invites the world to join a four-week-long party, have as much fun as they want and then leave the host country on their own with the clean-up. But the truth is that the tournament itself is not the end of a commercially driven campaign, but very often only one stop on a journey that brings long-lasting benefits: Like the creation of new jobs, improved local infrastructure, the implementation of social projects, an image boost and the resulting increase in tourism. 

Germany 2006: from cold and unfriendly to warm and welcoming

When the whole world is watching, the stakes are high. But it also provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shred stereotypes and reaffirm positive qualities in just four weeks that can last forever. This has never been more apparent than in 2006 when the World Cup set up camp in Germany. What seemed like a logical choice – Germany is a football nation, after all – was not incredibly popular with many Germans but even less so with potential visitors at the time. How can a country whose citizens are stereotyped as unfriendly and unemotional, a country where it always seems to rain and that is known for a horrific past host the biggest party on earth? Turns out, they could. Quite well, in fact.

2006 - FIFA World Cup in Germany

The Germans welcomed the world with open arms and, with every sunny day that passed, they also slowly came to peace with their own history. All of a sudden, after over sixty years of suppressing any kind of patriotism, it was okay to wave their flag out in the open, proud and loud, something that had seemed unthinkable only weeks earlier. At the same time, visitors were surprised how friendly, how beautiful Germany really was and how it was nothing like they had read, heard or thought before. The German team might not have won that year, but the German nation did. And that feeling of new-found unity and togetherness that the World Cup provided did not stop when the tournament was over. The world witnessed first-hand that Germany was a nation of open, dynamic and interested people eager to move on and, in return, the hosts took that energy and ran with it. The overwhelmingly positive impact on tourism, the economy and the image of Germany that the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ had in the years following the tournament has been well documented. 

Not a four-week show but a long-term effect for the World Cup’s next stop

2014 in Brazil, the situation obviously is quite different – known for being a very open, colourful, passionate and spirited nation, there is no doubt that Brazilians will host the world with open arms and proudly wave their nation’s flag. Of course, like at any other sports event in recent years with the magnitude of a Football World Cup, there are challenges and criticism in the months leading up to it. But as soon as the opening game kicks off on June 12, the whole nation will show their unparalleled love for the beautiful game and focus their energy on supporting their team, united and full of pride. But regardless of the Brazilian team’s success on the pitch in June and July, some families and children are already benefitting from the event taking place in their home country as there are many great long-term legacy initiatives in place.

Partnerships for social change

In order to use sport as a tool to teach life skills and values, and contribute to social change long after the final whistle is blown at the World Cup, adidas Brazil partnered up with the local NGO Gol de Letra already in 2011 to create Ginga Social. This sports-based after-school programme implemented in five Brazilian cities already provided support to more than 2,200 children and their families in a country where 85% of the population lives in urban areas and where space for sports and leisure is scarce and expensive. It also encourages children to get involved and rewards them with special opportunities such as it did for a number of Ginga Social children who were chosen to accompany the world’s best football players on the pitch during an unforgettable experience as flagbearers at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.

Ginga Social in Brazil

That the World Cup itself is just one stop on the journey is apparent in many more examples not limited to but connected directly to the tournament. Some 14,000 kilometres away from where the football action will take place this summer lays the Sialkot District in Pakistan, a country the adidas Group has sourced footballs from for more than 30 years. As part of their partnership with FIFA and with the overall goal to join the fight against the employment of under-age workers in the football-stitching industry, the adidas Group provides funds to the local NGO Sudhaar. The organisation offers education, school infrastructure and sports programmes in the area’s rural communities to stand up to child labour, unemployment and lack of education.  Since the beginning of the partnership between adidas and Sudhaar in 2002, 28,000 children from low-income families enrolled in 138 schools have benefitted from the programme.

Quality education for all: Sudhaar, Pakistan

This is not the only example where the partnership between FIFA and adidas has a sustainable impact on various regions around the world using the power of the game of football for social development. The Football for Hope adidas Exchange Programme, a part of FIFA’s overall Football for Hope initiative, brings together the knowledge, expertise and funding of several organisations around the globe, such as streetfootballworld or adidas and Coerver® Coaching. On a regular basis, the programme provides organisations that are active in development through football with the opportunity to exchange and develop key expertise, supporting coaches directly on the ground and thus supporting social change and education in various communities.

Just a stopover

The list goes on and on. And it proves that football and sport in general have a power that is not limited to a pitch or a stadium or a four-week tournament every four years. In fact, the reach is a lot more profound and sustainable. Football and the World Cup in particular provide vital tools to children and young people around the world that make a difference in their lives and contribute to long-lasting positive social change. So, this summer, after one team has lifted a trophy, pictures have been taken and the World Cup moves on, it is not the end of a commercial party. For Brazil and its people, it is merely one stop on a journey that is indeed longer than just four weeks and involves more than just men playing football.