Constanza Campos Correa
University of Edinburgh
The biography of the Chilean soccer star Alexis Alejandro Sánchez is indicative of the social and economic advantages that success in professional sport may bring to individuals who grew up in challenging circumstances. Football continues to be a social mobility pathway for the few and not the many. While wealthy transfers tend to be headline news what is less well known is the way in which football works for other people in Chile.
The United Nations has recently (2015) provided sport with an international mandate to contribute to the 2030 Sustainable development goals. Sport for development and peace (SDP) and sport for change (SC) programmes differ from sport development programmes because they intentionally plan to deliver other outcomes through sport. One of the issues with such programmes is the lack of evidence involving participants who can testify to the extent to which the sports interventions have been effective after a period of time.
The Fútbol Más Program
The Fútbol Más Program was created in 2009, the organisation works in eight different countries along three continents, with around 5.000 kids and in 70 neighbourhoods. Their background of being an organisation created in the Global South, expanded to the rest of the world more than 10 years ago, and their international reputation, provided the perfect scenario to explore the impact of an SDP programme in Chile.
This small study explored the way in which one football programme worked for a group of young Chilean kids who participated in the Fútbol Más Program. Very few SDP and SC programmes systematically track over a period of time the benefits, successes and challenges experienced by the participants several years after they have left the programme.
This study worked with a group of nine kids who had left the programme five years ago with a view to listening to their accounts of how the programme had impacted upon their lives. This research worked with a specific group of nine young adults who, in 2012, won the national league of the organisation. The participants were between 17 to 19 years old from a small neighbourhood in the north of Chile.
Two waves or phases of analysis were undertaken. The first wave of analysis listened to the participants during three different phases of their lives in relation to the Fútbol Más Programme, before, during and after. The responses covered five different areas, education, health, inclusion and community building, mass participation in physical activity and social behaviour.
The second wave of analysis listened to feedback to the programme organisers.
The five areas mentioned above are covered in turn:
One of the most important aspects observed in education is that six of the nine participants explained that they had learned new social abilities such as sociability and self-confidence with the programme and that these were especially useful and observable within the school.
These new skills gave rise to important changes in the personality of the participants, affecting them in positive ways, such as how to be part of a group, how to create correct interaction with their peers and how to express more personality within the classroom.
They described these new skills as being very useful in their day-to-day lives.
“They taught us values, so that influenced me to change some aspects of my personality. For example, I used to be very shy and I could not talk in front of the class. When I started to participate in the programme, I felt like I had more personality”.
Although more difficult to measure, two of the participants described positive changes in their physical health after participating in the programme, such as weight loss and support to come through the experience of having heart disease.
In addition to this there were recorded some important changes to participants in relation to happiness and positive feeling, and in the majority of cases, those feelings were maintained over time. Consequently, the programme achieved one of their main goals, which is to contribute to the happiness of children.
“The motivation was different. I woke up to go to the school with a more positive attitude, and I waited for the Fútbol Más classes with a lot of expectation”.
Inclusion and Community Building
Participants perceived a significant change in the community as a result of the presence of the programme in the local neighbourhood.
They described a high level of the respect and support from the community towards the programme. Because of this, it could be observed that the programme created an impact in the community, integrating them into the project and creating a positive development of social capital such as stronger networks, higher levels of trust and pride in being part of the community.
Additionally, the project affords the participants the opportunity to continue in the project as leaders and monitors, integrating and creating opportunities for the young people of the community as well.
“It is a big responsibility for me to still be involved with the community, because the parents want me to be the teacher of their kids, and they chose me as the best leader one year”.
Mass Participation in Physical Activity
It can be observed from the participants’ responses that currently eight out of nine young adults practiced the World Health Organisations (2017) recommended hours of PA in comparison with five out of nine participants that were practising the recommended hours of PA before Fútbol Más.
It might be perceived that Fútbol Más has the potential to make a good contribution in the area of Mass Participation in lower class income groups, which is the social group who participate less in PA in Chile.
Consequently, the programme could be creating or enabling sustained PA participation over a long term period (five years), and helping to achieve what sport policies in many countries fail achieve with lower class income groups.
This participation in PA is created at no monetary cost. This area is important to highlight, because football, especially in an unequal country such as Chile, is a good alternative as a social tool used to tackle poverty.
At the same time, this might give rise to illusions for young children and families to become famous football players, which just a small number of children manage to do. This illusion is not the sole problem, for this illusion might also be surrounded by business and the need to pay to play in football clubs.
That it is why Fútbol Más could contribute to create a participation in Physical Activity, with no cost to the government or families.
The main findings were associated with how the programme could be a means of prevention. Judging by the responses of the participants, all of them highlighted the main values of the programme (respect, responsibility, happiness, creativity and teamwork) as an important aspect of the programme that could influence their social behaviour in a positive way.
Also, most of the positive responses relating to the influence of those values in their actual lives were from participants who were no longer part of the organisation.
This could suggest that the main values taught to them by the organisation creates an impact on the participants across a long term period (five years), and could be discouraging them from participating in some forms of anti- social behaviour.
“I think Fútbol Más helped me to be a better person as a player. I learned how to be modest with my achievements in football, to be more generous with my teammates and respectful with the teachers. Also, they taught me to believe in me and to be sure of what I want to achieve in my life”.
Second phase analysis
This brief contribution will limit itself to making two further observations that can be drawn from the conversations with the programme participants.
One of the most valuables characteristics of the programme described by the participants was the academic and human quality of the teachers. This aspect is very important for the purpose of the project, because it is this strong connection and impact (generated by the teacher towards the participants) that would contribute to making it possible to the long term impacts from the SDP programme for the participants.
The participants were also asked about their concerns about the programme, and one of the main topics discussed was related to the end of the project. This stage was for all of the participants, a hard one to accept, even when some of them continued in the programme and had a chance to develop within a new area in the organisation.
The main frustration from the participants originated from the impossibility to compete with the programme, and, at the same time, in this stage some of the participants felt frustrated about their dreams to become a professional football player. In this crucial stage for the participants, it would perhaps be beneficial to extend the categories so that the participants could continue until they were 18 years old and further sustain sustain the development of participants, and perhaps support the young adults in this complicated stage when they are dealing with important decisions about their futures.
“I really liked the competitive part of Fútbol Más, to have matches, to try to be the best and to play with other teams. I think this aspect motivates me the most to play football and to be part of a team”.
Very little has been written about sport for development in Latin America and this study makes a small contribution in trying to contribute to the gap in sport for development research in Latin America and in this case Chile.
The researcher herself is Chilean and the motivation behind the small study was to help to contribute to an area of knowledge about Chile and provide a further basis for dialogue about SDP in a larger Latin American set of contexts.
The researcher is grateful to the many people inside and outside of Chile who offered advice, support and knowledge. The researcher has worked both as a sports journalist in Chile and a research assistant with the University of Edinburgh.