Wednesday 05 April 2017, 08:05

RheinFlanke bringing the pitch to the players

  • German aid organisation help set up football matches for refugees

  • Football used as a tool for engaging with disadvantaged youngsters

  • Organisation benefit from FIFA's Football For Hope programme

As soon as the children in refugee camps in and around Cologne catch a glimpse of the converted American school bus rounding the corner, their eyes light up. They know it is football time again. Rather than transporting school children, the yellow bus carries all the equipment needed to set up a small football pitch, including the goalposts.

It is made possible thanks to RheinFlanke, an aid organisation based in Cologne that was founded during the 2006 FIFA World Cup™. Today, the large institution, which is supported by FIFA's Football for Hope initiative, runs numerous projects, including this one for refugees.


•   Founded during the 2006 World Cup in Germany •   Started out with night football projects •   Approximately 100 employees •   Active in Cologne and surrounding area, as well as Bonn, Dusseldorf and Berlin •   Football a tool for establishing contact with socially disadvantaged youths •   Conveys values for everyday life through sport •   Option of individual help if needed •   Part of an international network through Streetfootballworld

MissionAs one of a number of its initiatives, RheinFlanke endeavours to use football as a means to establish contact with young people, especially those in socially disadvantaged situations, and offer them further help. For example, they organise football games and tournaments which are attended by coaching tandems from RheinFlanke: one of the coaches handles on-field duties, while the other is on the sidelines engaging the youngsters not involved in the game and talking to them about their lives or concerns.

"Our football coaches are more like social workers with a background in sports," said Arne Dreyer, head of RheinFlanke's public relations and marketing. "They just ask the kids on the sidelines: 'how are you doing?' They show an interest, but the youngsters have to want to talk themselves and volunteer any information about their problems. We don't push them, but offer an option for help. If they do come to us, we try to help them out." That often involves developing individual plans, for example, to help prepare a youngster for a job or helping them get an apprenticeship.

At the same time, an effort is made to transmit the values of the game to aid personal development in every day life. "Football lends itself very well to being a social area of learning," explained Dennis Diedrich, RheinFlanke's head of education. "Key social skills such as fairness, respect and personal responsibility can be fostered, as well as impulse control and frustration tolerance, which are very important for teenage boys." The conduct of some of the older adolescents, who have been involved in the projects for longer periods of time, allows them to act as role models alongside the coaches. At RheinFlanke, this is called 'pro-social behaviour'.

ProjectsIn addition to its involvement in sports, RheinFlanke also runs projects based on theatre, dance and graffiti. However, Diedrich emphasised that "it takes longer to get youngsters interested in those areas. It's very easy with football though, as they often have role models in the game."

And so the idea involving the aforementioned American school bus was born. "The refuges might be safe, but they hardly have any opportunities to let off steam," Diedrich continued. "That's why our football initiatives are very welcome because they can run around and just be kids."

The main objective is to create social togetherness in society. For instance, in a long-established worker's sports club in Cologne, two refugee football teams have now been integrated into the German Football Association's (DFB) leagues. RheinFlanke provides licensed coaches, and now refugees and other club members play alongside each other in the sides.

In the recently opened office in Berlin, football is helping in an additional area as well. There, the idea is to use the time on the pitch to assist the children in taking their first steps towards learning German, as well as getting foreign youngsters into schools.

What RheinFlanke says "Football is a very attractive sport and is an ice-breaker for topics we want to deal with. Through the game, you can build up a trusting and stable relationship in order to be able to offer further support." Dennis Diedrich, head of education

"Football lends itself because it has its own language. 90 per cent of all youngsters have seen the game and know the rules. If in doubt, you can just throw a ball into the mix and away they go. Working with refugees, we're dealing with people who initially have no way of communicating with each other due to the language barrier. So having an instrument that everybody knows is a big help." Arne Dreyer, head of PR and marketing

  • This is part of'songoing series highlighting NGOs that are part of Football for Hope, FIFA’s global initiative to help improve the lives of young people through football.*