Tuesday 27 June 2017, 08:35

Sport 4 Life, football for all

  • Sport 4 Life UK are based in Birmingham, England

  • Charity uses sport as a vehicle to improve young people's employment chances

  • Organisation is supported by FIFA's Football For Hope programme

“When we came here, we didn’t have a lot of friends, but now we do. When we’re playing football, we enjoy it.”

The near-identical grin that spreads across the faces of the two twins is enough to light up any room. Taking refuge in a changing room at a sports complex in Birmingham, England for a chat with FIFA.com as the rain batters down outside, the warmth and brightness from Mohammed and Hussain is much appreciated. The smiles on the 17-year-olds’ faces belie a troubled back-story though.

They were forced from their hometown in Afghanistan by conflict after losing family members and close neighbours to the war. They left their mother and others behind in a search for safety. Travelling across Europe, they ended up in the infamous Calais ‘Jungle’, aged 14.

“It was very difficult,” Mohammed recalls. “But we were playing football there too with our friends. It was good to play football during this difficult time.”

After over two years in Calais, the pair came – separately – to the UK.

“We’ve not always been together,” said Mohammed, flashing another wide smile to Hussain, seemingly appreciating his mere presence. “We were separated after Calais, for about two or three months. We had some contact via phone. I was very worried about him, because I arrived first in the UK and he was still in Calais.”

Eventually, the pair were reunited and now live together, with a foster family, in Birmingham. Since their arrival late last year, they have come to this sports complex to take part in football sessions run by Sport 4 Life UK, a charity which uses sport as a vehicle to get young people to improve their employability and life skills. Outside of the changing room, despite the rain, over 70 refugees and asylum seekers from a myriad range of countries, religious and ethnic backgrounds, are playing football together.

Stuart Bates is an Employment and Training Coordinator who not only coaches at these football sessions but engages those involved to integrate into the local society, while developing leadership skills and perhaps moving into further education.

“Having free access to these facilities gives them the opportunity to make friends and forge relationships,” Bates said. “Sport 4 Life are trying to use local facilities to integrate these refugees and asylum seekers and get them to be positive about the local area. Football is a universal language so it makes it easier to communicate.”

Tom Clarke-Forrest set up Sport 4 Life UK in 2006, with the purpose of creating a better future for young people aged 12-25 by utilising the power of sport, and football in particular.

“We deliver a range of activities,” Clarke-Forrest said. “They include structured sports sessions, accredited qualifications and one-to-one mentoring to give young people the support they need to prevent them becoming unemployed in the future.

“FIFA, through Football For Hope, has provided some really important organisational funding to enable us to sustain our existing programmes and grow into new areas as well.”

And the impact on Mohammed and Hussain? They now have leadership qualifications, via Sport 4 Life UK, and are looking to continue improving themselves.

“I want to continue my education and get into university,” Mohammed said. “I’d love to learn politics.”

“Aside from becoming a footballer?” Hussain grinned once more, then reverted to a focused manner. “I’d like to be a doctor.”

It is likely a bright future awaits the pair, a million miles away from the conflict in Afghanistan. They have not heard from their mother since last year. But no doubt she would be proud of the message they pass on to their peers at the sessions.

“I would like to say don’t ever lose your hope,” Hussain said, when asked if he had a message for the world. “Try to catch that dream.”

Sport 4 Life UK: Stats from the past year

721 young people engaged on their programmes

226 qualifications gained

88 per cent on TEENS (12-16 year olds on margins of society) programme reported improvement in behaviour

66 per cent on NEETS (not in employment, education or training) programme progressed into education, employment or training

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