The UEFA Foundation for Children’s success belies its young age

The UEFA Foundation for Children has been up and running for a year now, so we decided it was time to catch up with its chairman, José Manuel Barroso, to ask how things are going.

A year after its launch, what is your initial assessment of the work the foundation has done? The foundation is already making a difference all over the world, for the time being with the one exception of South America. Today, thousands of children who are underprivileged or living in difficult circumstances are being supported in their daily lives by the foundation and its partners – through education and opportunities to play, among other things. That is simply priceless.

In concrete terms, what has the foundation done? First of all, we made sure to continue working on the projects that UEFA had been supporting itself. One such project is Just Play, a unique football programme in Oceania, for children aged 6 to 12, which aims to engage the community and promote healthy lifestyles. Another involves socio-educational football activities in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. At the same time, we are supporting projects as wide-ranging as a pan-European research project on autism and a partnership with the John Giles Foundation in the fields of health and social integration in the Republic of Ireland. I should also mention One Goal for Education, which is using football to promote social inclusion through big clubs in Belgium, England, Israel, the Netherlands and Scotland.

Are you planning any particular activities for UEFA EURO 2016? First, we’ve launched 20,000 Children’s Smiles, a project that will enable 20,000 disadvantaged children and accompanying adults to attend one of 43 EURO 2016 matches. Second, in cooperation with Sport dans la Ville (Sport in the City) and streetfootballworld – associations that use sport as a vehicle for social change – we are organising a solidarity tournament in Lyon, where 500 girls and boys from all over the world will come together. And finally, we will have a European schools tournament in Lens and Lille, which will bring together young people aged 18 and under, for the most part from the 30 UEFA member associations who did not qualify for EURO 2016.

Do you have any particular criteria for your partnerships? We define our action as ethical and responsible. We have chosen to be completely transparent, as the foundation’s website shows, and our partners know that everything is subject to the UN’s code of ethics, which sets out very strict rules on working with children and respecting the environment, for example.

How does UEFA support you? First of all, UEFA – which the foundation is independent from – has committed to giving us an annual grant until 2025. In addition to that, a large amount of work has been done by UEFA staff and through UEFA events and activities. This has involved the allocation of revenue to foundation projects and a desire to act responsibly by giving competition and event materials a second life. A number of projects and associations have benefited from material support in the form of bibs, balls and all sorts of other equipment. The Children’s Dreams programme, which aims to help make the football-related dreams of seriously ill children come true, would also not be possible without the direct support of UEFA.

What are the main things that the foundation will be doing in the near future? In order to develop our activities we will continue to look for new forms of financing that respect the code of ethics – and we will do this with complete transparency. And we will continue to mobilise the whole football family – clubs, associations, sponsors, etc. Because a simple ball can erase differences such as skin colour, background and religion, and because, at the end of the day, football is a fantastic tool to help people live together in harmony.