Can football change the world in its fight against poverty?
Football great Zinedine Zidane took part in the annual Match against Poverty.
March 5th, 2014
01:47 PM ET

Can football change the world in its fight against poverty?

By Tom McGowan

A band of heroes unite to change the lives of those in need, to feed the starving and house the homeless.

This is the rationale behind a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) initiative which it hopes will help halve world poverty by 2015.

Arguably the UN faces an uphill struggle.

A recent Oxfam report estimated that the world's richest 85 people share a combined wealth of $1.67 trillion, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world's population.

The World Bank's definition of poverty is based on an income of less than $2 a day, or a calorie intake of less than 2100 calories.

Football stars Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane are the faces of the Match Against Poverty, launched in 2003 and now an annual event aimed at raising funds for the impoverished.

"It's the world's most accessible and equal sport. You can even make your own football," Petra Lantz, director of the UNDP representation office in Geneva, told CNN.

"I've seen that with kids who use paper and string, then they have a football and they pretend that they're Ronaldo or Zidane.

"If you want to reach these kids who are no longer in school, sport is an excellent activity. Football is a sport that is accessible even for those who are poor."

The match stems from the UN adopting the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, which were put in place to help the organization halve the number of people in the world living below the poverty line by 2015.

The Match Against Poverty has played its part in that. The 2013 event raised $360,000 for youth-oriented projects in Brazil and Cape Verde, while Lantz suggests it has raised $4 million since its inception.

This year the game took place in Bern, Switzerland, with the Stade de Suisse the venue for a match between Ronaldo, Zidane and friends and local club Young Boys.

Stars like Luis Figo, Pavel Nedved and Marta –the world's most famous female player and a UN Goodwill Ambassador - turned out for a match which finished 8-6 to the stars.

Organizers expect to raise $250,000 - generated from the sale of tickets and broadcasting rights and corporate sponsors - from the game, with two thirds of the money generated going to victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

The typhoon - considered by some to be among the strongest such storms to make landfall - struck the Philippines on November 8. Its powerful winds and enormous storm surge smashed buildings, destroyed roads and caused widespread power and water outages.

Proceeds from the match will go to the UNDP's short-term work scheme, which is focused on cleaning up after the storm and helping to put some money into people's pockets.

However is assembling a collection of retired pros to play together the best way to raise interest in ending poverty?

Lantz is convinced involving people of such a high profile is the only way to get the public excited about tackling inequality in the face of "poverty fatigue."

"Having celebrities of this calibre standing up and saying 'We should join forces to reduce poverty, combat poverty and end poverty, it's really important," she said.

"If you're a young kid in Lagos in Nigeria and you're playing football and you see one of your heroes standing up and saying 'it's about time the world ends poverty,' that's something that is very important."

The match also sees the UNDP work alongside FIFA and UEFA, two bodies which govern world and European football respectively.

According to Lantz, establishing partnerships between such large and influential organizations is vital.

"We need partners, in the private sector and in civil society," she added.

"But working with bodies such as UEFA and FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee as well, it's a way of reaching others and engaging."

A FIFA World Player of the Year winner and a two-time World Cup winner with Brazil, Ronaldo insited football can help address the issue of poverty.

"We are very proud to help people and also we are happy because all of our friends said yes and they will come," Ronaldo told CNN.

"Football has a lot of power in the world and our society."

Filed under:  Football • World Sport Analysis
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. fdkjashf asdfasdf


    March 5, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  2. Fawzy

    Actually,it is ahumanitarian initiative ,thanks toZaidan and Ronaldo for that annual event as great legends in football as well as Fifa and U.N embassodors to convey such messages through the shortest and most effective method,addressing here ,sport generally and football in particular..The world is looking for more and more initiative to conquer poverty,illiteracy and cancer....Fawzy.

    March 6, 2014 at 3:30 am | Reply
  3. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Football stars can do a lot to wipe out poverty and bring a ray of hope to the starving millions on the Planet. Superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Franck Ribbery, Arjen Robben, Lewandowski, Vincent Kompany, Steven Gerrard, Robin Van Persie, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Robinho, Mario Ballotelli, Didier Drogba, Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Cassillas, Mueller, Klose, Neuer, Petr Cech, Lampard, Aguero, Dzeko, Piqué, Neymar, Radamel, Cavani, Zlatan are much admired footballers of our time. Mentors like Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Rodgers, Pellegrini, Martinez, Seedorf, Guardiola, Mancini, Ancelloti, Martino, Klinsmann, Zinedine and a host of mentors, footballers, club owners and sponsors could come together and make a lasting contribution in the transformation of our tiny Planet.

    March 6, 2014 at 9:57 am | Reply
  4. Abhijan Barua

    Reblogged this on Nutshell.

    March 12, 2014 at 9:50 am | Reply
  5. papyfaríala


    March 16, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  6. David K.

    It's a drop in the ocean. $250,000 raised just doesn't go very far to ending world poverty. Even $4 million over the years is really a pittance considering the problem. To put it in perspective, David Beckham's underwear contract alone was worth $44 million in one year. It's nice that they're doing this, and it looks like fun, but it's not moving the needle on world poverty.

    March 21, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  7. Adeniran Adebayo

    How is it possible to fight poverty in a country like Nigeria where elites, leaders and politicians are looting money for infrastructure. How do you want to fight poverty when unemployment is skyrocketing? The whole world should join hands with our organisation to fight corruption first. PDP led FG in Nigeria is breeding looters instead of building Nigeria economically. Nigeria is very rich in everything but the leaders and politicians know nothing about vision. They do not love Nigerians but love Nigeria because they are milking her to death! No nation can fight poverty without infrastructure to create jobs

    April 13, 2014 at 12:37 am | Reply

    Football is a gentlemans sport played by hooligans....Rugby is a hooligans sport played by gentleman.....give blood, play Rugby.

    April 22, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Reply

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