Soccer is changing. From Marcus Rashford driving social policy to Juan Mata helping to launch an entire movement, the modern gamer wants to make a difference. It stems from a desire to change the world around them, but also how they feel about themselves.
“I think it comes from people’s thirst for their soul,” says Tom Vernon. sky sports. The founder of the Right to Dream academy in Ghana and co-owner of Danish club FC Nordsjaelland is helping quench that thirst by pledging to support Common Goal.
Right to Dream is the first ‘sport for good’ brand to commit to giving one percent of its revenue to good causes. The organizations will pool resources, including awarding 10 £20,000 grants to budding entrepreneurs to develop new football projects.
“It’s essential that you don’t just look inward,” says Vernon. “We have to contribute to other causes. That’s the glue in the ecosystem. Common Goal and the philosophy behind it is something we all passionately believe in. The idea is to bring the football family together.”
That idea is gaining momentum. When Michael Jordan refused to endorse the African-American Democratic candidate in his home state, joking that “Republicans buy sneakers too,” he became the creed of a generation. But now there are signs that the era of sticking to sports is over.
“I never considered myself an activist,” Jordan later said. “I considered myself a basketball player. That’s where my energy was.” The modern athlete has a different mindset. They want to show what they believe in, and they need something to believe in.
Human beings yearn for meaning in life. We all want to have a purpose. Psychologists believe that it is essential to lead a full life. The limited scope of a sports race (eat, sleep, repeat) cannot satiate all players for long. Many now want to do more.
What happens once you climb the mountain? When the childhood dream has been realized and the contract is signed. There are those whose descent into addiction dates back to the day they won their first international match. No more worlds to conquer.
For others, that moment of emptiness, the dimming of the light, comes with financial security. The family is taken care of. The parents have their house. With greater riches in the game, that’s a point many are getting to much sooner than before. So what?
An ambition greater than the game itself can propel a player throughout their career and beyond. That could explain why so many turn to charitable movements, and not just through their own foundations, but alongside larger companies that bring people together.
Mata, the Spanish footballer who helped launch Common Goal in 2017, never wanted this to be his move. He prefers to be seen simply as the first to sign up. It was always about unity and teamwork, that sense of community. A common goal.
He had something, but it was also a challenge for football. It’s not a coincidence that female players signed up more easily than men. Big business brings complications and reveals something about the distance that can develop between player and audience.
“There’s a professional football bubble,” explains Vernon. “It’s not the people who want to stay there. In most cases, they are looking for more. We see it as our responsibility to burst the bubble and open their eyes.”
Simone Lewis, formerly of the Premier League, has been brought on as chief of purpose at Right to Dream with that in mind. “We have five full-time employees working to see how we can take our players on a journey toward what’s meaningful to them,” adds Vernon.
“There are trips and tours. They’ve been designed as deep journeys, so we’re not just going to play a football tournament somewhere, but it’s a real opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture of the place we’re going.
“We want players to gain a deeper understanding. It’s about connecting them to things that are meaningful to them. The basic principle is that we can discuss this in the classroom, but then we can create practical opportunities to build on that to build character and generate impact”.
At first glance, bursting the bubble is a particular challenge at FC Nordsjaellend. “The social welfare system here in Denmark is so advanced that you often don’t find those opportunities to connect with the community.” But they work to instill that spirit early.
Emiliano Marcondes from Bournemouth went through the Nordsjaelland academy and has continued to contribute. Last year he was in Ghana doing a free kick school. This year, he was in Brazil and Uganda, where he invested in an academic project of his own.
“He got some of that initial spark from being involved in our program and our way of thinking. He’s excited about playing in the Premier League, but his other stuff inspires him so much. It makes me feel good to see the person he is.” becoming.”
And yet the idea persists that such matters are a distraction. Save them for later. Focus on soccer. Former Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said as much when he speculated about Rashford’s drop in form last season. Vernon was not impressed.
“I think Solskjaer made such a disappointing comment when he said that about Marcus. I just don’t understand what the expectation is on these players after they leave training to mean they are losing focus doing things like Marcus and Juan are doing.” .
“Is it really the case that we would all rather be playing FIFA on PlayStation all day than engage in these meaningful conversations and design projects that can have a real impact on other people’s lives? I really don’t get it.
“I know the demands of professional football can be quite intense at certain periods. But there are hundreds of hours in the year where you can really leverage your wealth, experiences, platform or network to connect in a more meaningful way with society.”
That can be the difference between being happy or not.
“We are in this mental health pandemic in the West and there are many solutions to that problem. The bottom line is that those connections that help and develop other people are at the root of where people feel happiest.
“This connectivity that Common Goal represents is very important because it gives people the opportunity for a healthier and more meaningful life. That has all the performance benefits that come from feeling good about yourself and your role in society.
“I know players, both world-class players and Right to Dream graduates, who are excited about retirement. If you’re lucky enough to play on a team that can win a trophy, there’s excitement about it, but there are others who are excited about it. other possibilities.
“They have done the football thing and have found their level. They will continue if they can until they are 35 years old because they still have a basic love for the game, but there are things that they are beginning to imagine beyond football that excite them the most. than the daily routine.
Public perception of Rashford and Mata is overwhelmingly positive, and this is beginning to cause a sea change in the way advisers now view their actions. Sponsors are attracted to them. It is commercially viable to take a position. It makes sense to compromise.
“People know now that it’s a good idea, commercially,” says Vernon. “If you look at Marcus’ endorsement portfolio, I’m pretty sure it would be significantly higher than those players who do their thing in the shadows or don’t do anything at all.
“So you start to have commercial directors at clubs and agents saying, ‘Yeah, maybe this makes sense and we should do it.’ Even if it’s from a business point of view, it’s an easier conversation than it was when we started thinking and talking 15 years ago.
“It’s about getting the balance right and not being a business motive to begin with. If we go back to Marcus, it obviously wasn’t a calculated business decision, it was driven by motivation and empathy for a cause and then it starts.” roll on something.
This change in thinking, this awareness that there is more to life than selling shoes, is already happening outside of football. “Some other sports are a little further down the road.” Vernon cites examples from American sports.
“I think the structure of the university there is a great springboard as it keeps the mind broader so these concepts come up more easily. There is definitely this risk with the way European academies are structured where it limits your thought. “
But football is fighting back. A Nordsjaellend graduate leaves and shares his ideas with other clubs. A Common Goal member talks about his reasons for joining a teammate. The power of football, the power of purpose, could yet change everything.
“When you do the math on what that one percent could do if we were all involved, it’s pretty remarkable. It would do what FIFA should have been doing, but much more effectively than they have been doing. Our job is to do our job. one percent and keep talking about it.
Explanation of the association Right to Dream and Common Goal
Right to Dream becomes the first ‘Sport For Good’ brand in Common Goal’s 1% community to embed the 1% commitment throughout their organization.
The two organizations will combine knowledge and resources and collaborate closely to drive social impact projects, new business development and organizational growth initiatives that help drive majority change in football more broadly through the value and power of football, the community and the development of young and future players. leaders
Impact partnership launches ‘Projects With Purpose Platform’ which will provide ten £20,000 grants to budding social entrepreneurs over the period of the partnership that will enable athletes and others in football to develop and launch projects with a purpose through through soccer.
The association will launch “Football Leaders Connect”; an annual gathering of soccer executives, club owners, athletes and other leading figures from the soccer industry committed to bringing positive social and environmental impact into the core of the industry.
Right to Dream and Common Goal will publish an annual “Football Purpose Report” highlighting social innovation within the sport, sharing roadmaps and best practice suggestions for other football stakeholders, such as clubs, and will seek to measure success and progress on the social problems assessed. from one report to the next.