Frankfurt – Professional football in Germany is playing an active role in helping refugees arriving in the country. In addition to the 36 professional clubs in the two top tiers, the Bundesliga Foundation is getting involved. Its chairman Stefan Kiefer told bundesliga.com what the aims of their latest campaign is, and how professional football has a social responsibility to honour.
bundesliga.com: Mr Kiefer, the Bundesliga Foundation is campaigning for refugees and integration with the "Willkommen im Fußball" (Welcome to Football) project. How did this project come about?
Stefan Kiefer: The Bundesliga Foundation has been campaigning for successful integration since it was founded in 2008, and it has been using the unifying force of football for this purpose. The main scope of our work is to initiate and support projects, in close cooperation with clubs and players. Last year, the Bundesliga Foundation launched a new campaign for integration which took off thanks to a partnership with the Ministry of Migration, Refugees and Integration, the Secretary of State Aydan Özoguz as well as the German Football Association. In addition to dedicating one Bundesliga Matchday in March to raise public awareness, with television and print advertising with the motto "draw a line through prejudices!", we have now established this new 'Welcome to Football' project which we are conducting together with the German Child and Youth Foundation in order to invite people to go about assimilating this motto as a part of life and to promote an open, respectful togetherness.
bundesliga.com: What are the aims of this project?
Kiefer: 'Welcome to Football' sends out a sign in favour of the constitution of a positive and sustainable welcoming culture in the way people deal with refugees. The programme enables young refugees to get into the sport by offering them access and facilitating their entry into organised club football. In addition to football, the individual welcoming organisations involved in the campaign – starting from the local professional football club and working down – will also offer cultural, language, educational, professional qualification and networking opportunities. This will open the door for the young refugees to integrate socially and develop themselves. The welcoming organisations will not only be supported financially at the start of the campaign, but they will also be given active assistance on a local level in order to ensure they can carry their work on even beyond the duration of the campaign. It is a campaign which delivers practical examples for a successful togetherness and the successful integration through sport. Hopefully it will inspire other sections of society to get involved in similar activities.
bundesliga.com: At the moment, there are numerous support initiatives underway to help refugees. What is so special about this one?
Kiefer: Sport – and in our case football – is what brings people together. It offers common rules, structure and is healthy, while at the same time being enjoyable. That is something which is particularly important for young people who have not been used to such a regular daily routine. In addition, football can be combined with other areas, such as language support - something like a 'football plus'. Fundamentally, our vision for "Welcome to Football" is to build on the structures which already exist by renewing these and guiding people who are already doing their bit to help refugees into forming something of a "welcoming alliance". The special thing about this is that it dovetails with professional football, which can motivate many people to get involved in establishing a real welcoming culture.
bundesliga.com: How are the Bundesliga clubs getting involved?
Kiefer: Our official integration Matchday in March this year was adhered to by all 36 clubs in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. Also on a professional level, we're sensing a real urge on the part of clubs to do all they possibly can to help refugees. Many clubs have already invited large groups of refugees to their home games, for example, or started raising funds for them, or even organised open training sessions for them. It's an issue which is important to everybody and we have not had to do anything to convince any club to take part in the 'Welcome to Football' campaign so far. What is very important in all this is also that not too much is being asked of the clubs and that a togetherness partnership in which everybody brings their own strengths to the table is setting the agenda.
bundesliga.com: What role can professional football play in ensuring our communities are peaceful places to live in together?
Kiefer: Professional footballers are role models, particularly for younger people. We have got to exploit this potential, on the field and also away from it. That starts with exemplary, fair and tolerant conduct by these players, who can also actively support a peaceful togetherness. That goes for the clubs as much as it goes for the fans. Professional football initiates or supports over 300 projects and initiatives each year and the clubs, players and the Bundesliga are investing over 20 million euros in this annually. We want to consolidate this and combine all of our efforts in the community, and 'Welcome to Football' is a prime example of this.