Tuesday 11 February 2020, 07:46

Football used as a means for rehabilitation in Germany

  • Kicking off a new life: rehabilitating offenders through football

  • Many famous footballing names supporting the initiative

  • "There are stories and inspirations that prove that this can work"

It is a truth universally acknowledged that football is much more than just a game, and can help to bring people together. That it can also help in the rehabilitation of male and female offenders is currently being demonstrated by the Kicking off a new life initiative run by the Sepp Herberger Foundation. "You need to be a group of 11 friends," is a famous quote from the man who coached West Germany to FIFA World Cup™ glory in 1954, and whose credo was: "When you’re at the top, don’t ever forget those below you".

"The Sepp Herberger Foundation was set up in 1977 as a gift from the German Football Association (DFB) to mark Herberger’s 80th birthday," explained foundation head Tobias Wrzesinski in an interview with FIFA.com. "It was important right from the start for the man himself that the ideas that he had lived his life by should be an integral part of the foundation, which was his sole inheritor, since he had no children. One of these ideas was a commitment to the work of correctional facilities, with Herberger having visited a prison in 1970 and decided thereafter to make it one of his priorities in life.

"We managed to take this incredibly humanitarian gesture on the part of Herberger further. Back then, a visit from a famous footballer would simply have been a way of brightening the day of those behind bars. Now we have joined forces with a number of highly-committed partners, for example the German Federal Labour Office and the DFB regional associations, to improve the chances of an offender who has been released to remain out of jail for good."

What began with a visit to a prison developed into the idea of helping young people coming out of a correctional facility to find a way back into the world of work and get a trade, which is where the Federal Labour Office came in as a partner for the Foundation. "Together with the committed partners that we have, we are currently working with 22 correctional facilities for young offenders in ten regions across Germany. For example, with the DFB regional associations we can offer training for officials and coaches, host rap workshops together with the Klangstiftung Musical Foundation, and much more. The basic philosophy is to give people a new start, get them back on the right path and give them the chance to leave the wrong crowd behind," said Wrzesinski.

"We want to support those in correctional facilities who are committed to the cause to make the best use of their time in there and prepare for life outside. Nothing is easy when you’re behind bars, so taking part in Kick-off for a new life is a great opportunity, and most of the inmates understand that."

Each institution decides who should be allowed to take part in the programme. Important criteria are availability for the job market and of course a love of football, and those far outweigh whatever crimes have been committed in the past. "There are youngsters in the programme who have been involved in theft or drug-related crimes, and even those who have committed serious offences."

The basic philosophy is to give people a new start, get them back on the right path and give them the chance to leave the wrong crowd behind.
Tobias Wrzesinski

Horst Eckel, Uwe Seeler, Jens Nowotny, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Timo Hildebrand are all committed to the cause as ambassadors and make regular visits, while the likes of Otto Rehhagel, former Germany women’s coaches Tina Theune and Steffi Jones, and FIFA World Player of the Year Nadine Kessler are also involved with the foundation.

"The work of the Foundation in correctional facilities is very well recognised and that means that there are people who actively seek us out to offer their support. For example, Sonja Fuss and Inka Grings have just contacted us to do exactly that, which I find wonderful. Fatmire Alushi also recently visited the detention centre in Cologne," said Wrzesinski.

The fact that, depending on the region, there is a rate of repeat offending of over 50 per cent, and therefore a real danger that incarceration can lead to a further spell behind bars, shows how important and crucial this kind of initiative is. And what better way of doing it than through the most popular sport in the world?

"The inmates, particularly the male ones, are really interested in football. They follow the Bundesliga matches, the German national team and all the major tournaments, and they enjoy playing themselves. We feed off this basic passion and try – even after they have left the institution – to help people who want to be helped when it comes to returning to the football community or indeed getting in there for the first time. And with around 25,000 clubs, Germany has a lot to offer."

Before he concluded, Wrzesinski underlined the fact that that the victims are not left out of this process, as they are an inherent part of every crime. "One thing goes without saying however: whatever we do, we should never forget that we are dealing with criminals, and as a general rule this means that there are also victims and their families who have had to go through some terrible things," he states.

"We are increasingly focusing on those who were affected and for example we are in talks with the ‘Weisser Ring’ (White Ring Foundation) which is a major organisation for victim support. Christoph Rickels, who himself was a victim of a violent crime, is an incredible young man whom we have been able to bring into the fold for this initiative. He still suffers today from the consequences of the attack and his life will never be the same, and yet he visits correctional facilities and gives talks on violence prevention. He doesn’t point the finger – he just delivers a powerful message."