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One Ball, One World: Spirit of Football engages communities across the world as a single football makes an epic journey

February 15 2023

In July 2022, in the middle of a summer heatwave in Battersea Park in London, a football began a long journey that would end on the other side of the world. One Ball, One World, an initiative run by Spirit of Football, takes The Ball – football’s equivalent of the Olympic Torch – on a global voyage, running education programmes in local communities along the way. In 2022-23, The Ball will travel across the globe to promote fair play, climate action, and gender equality.

One Ball, One World: Spirit of Football engages communities across the world as a single football makes an epic journey

Spirit of Football: a history of community engagement

Spirit of Football, a not-for-profit community interest company founded by Andrew Aris in 2005, uses the positive power of football to run education and inclusion projects, emphasising diversity, respect, and teamwork. Their work has taken them from their local community in Erfurt, Germany, to other cities across the country and further beyond to projects across the world. Their highly interactive education programmes, run in schools, businesses, and local communities, encourage inclusion and connection, and are aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Spirit of Football’s education projects are wide-ranging, encompassing sports as well as arts and theatre: they have run projects on anti-racism and Holocaust remembrance, and have also worked in refugee camps. In 2015, when Germany began welcoming large numbers of refugees from Syria, Spirit of Football began running football and sport workshops, as well as German language classes and cultural events, to promote refugee inclusion. Since 2019, the Spirit of Football team have placed an increasing emphasis on sustainability, and this will be the focus of one of their flagship programmes, The Ball, this year.

The Ball

The Ball is one of Spirit of Football’s longest running initiatives. Every four years since 2002  The Ball’s journey begins in Battersea Park, the site of the first ever game of modern rules football, and ends at the football World Cup. The past twenty years have seen The Ball make five journeys to the mens’ World Cups in Korea/Japan, Germany, South Africa, Brazil, and Russia, visiting over fifty countries along the way. In 2023, supported by the FIFA Foundation and the Swedish Postcode Foundation, The Ball will travel to the Women’s World Cup for the first time, finishing its long journey in Australia and New Zealand.

Along the way, The Ball visits local communities, clubs, and organisations to run interactive education modules and training programmes, and to use the power of football to encourage fair play and inclusion. This year, as The Ball makes its sixth journey, the team will focus on sustainability and gender equality. People can get involved by taking part in interactive workshops, signing the ball, and making their own sustainability pledges.

The first half of the journey: July to October 2022

The first half of The Ball’s 2022-23 journey, which began in July 2022 and ended in December, aimed to develop educational material and workshops, and saw visits to England, Turkey, Germany, the USA, France, the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan. Working with partners from the Common Goal network, including Pledgeball and Football for Future, the team ran workshops, developed educational materials, connected with local organisations, and collected thousands of signatures and pledges. The Ball also visited the UN Climate Action Hub at COP27 in November, as well as the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. In all, the journey saw 25 events carried out with 50 partners.

The education programme that was rolled out aims to help people to understand sustainability through the lens of football; to explore and understand what sustainable actions the football community is already taking; and to inspire individual and collective action in the future. Workshops typically include talks, discussions, and activities, and end with pledges and the signing of the ball. Anyone can sign up and make a pledge with Spirit of Football and Pledgeball on their website.

Crucially, the educational workshops always emphasise fun and collaboration. ‘The way we deliver our programme is with interaction, fun, games, and activities,’ says Andrew Aris, founder of Spirit of Football. ‘This always gets people excited.’

The activities encourage participants to think about the impact of climate change on football, and the role that football plays in climate change. One activity, ‘Football Under the Climate Microscope’, explores how climate change is affecting play—through things like flooded or dry pitches—but also how clubs are reducing their climate impact, through initiatives such as developing sustainable kits. The workshops aim to help people to identify things they are already doing that are sustainable, and then to think about individual and collective pledges to stimulate action in the future.

The second half kicks off: March to August 2023

As 2023 draws into its third month, The Ball will soon begin the second half of its long journey. The second leg will see The Ball travel through Southeast Asia and on to Oceania, visiting Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia en route.

Spirit of Football’s team of educators, along with their partners at Common Goal, will continue to deliver workshops, training sessions, and advocacy campaigns in local communities, working with local partners including the Indochina Starfish Foundation, the ASA Foundation, and Earth Diverse. When they reach their final destination of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, they will be the official sustainability partner of Festival 23, the football youth festival that will be held in Sydney in August.

One of the joys of the journey is the opportunity for the team to collaborate with people far and wide, often forging new and unexpected connections. ‘There’s a bit of serendipity involved in the ball, we see where it ends up,’ says Aris. ‘You never know who’s going to get in touch, and where it’s going to go.’ Aris encourages anyone interested in getting involved to reach out to the Spirit of Football team to bring the ball into their community.

Spirit of Football, and the wide reach of The Ball and its many journeys, shows the powerful impact of a small team committed to a big goal. The emphasis on fun and interaction, as well as the importance of connection and collaboration, are also key lessons for anyone who is committed to sustainability education. As The Ball sets off on its next adventure, the team hope to continue to play their part in creating a more sustainable future for football.

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    Read moreBethany White