By Sarah Van Vooren, Atoot Co-Founder, Equal Playing Field Ambassador and member of our Spirit of Football Family
Arriving early to the sprawling campus of Sydney Academy of Sport and Recreation in the north suburbs, Festival23 was buzzing with positive energies and cross-cultural conversations during breakfast. The young leaders were setting an exciting early tone, which made for an electrifying day of spreading climate change and gender equality awareness to these global change makers and shakers.
Spirit of Football, with the assistance of my EPF sister Erin Blankenship and myself and Barney Westen from Football for Future, were responsible for delivering two climate change workshops at Festival23. Our first workshop was with the young leaders. The day prior we had pitched The Ball project to all 70 delegates. They could then choose 1 of 3 workshops that they most wanted to participate in. What a hard choice, all of the options were fantastic.
In our workshop, 25 young women joined us from across the Pacific (Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tahiti, Fiji and Kiribati), Latin America (Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Nicaragua), Europe (France, Italy, Netherlands, England and Poland), Asia (India), North America (USA) and Australia.
These participants chose our workshop because they are concerned about climate change impacts on their home countries and were eager to find ways to use football to take climate action. Every participant shared their experiences of climate change and all quickly realized that it had affected each and every one of them, regardless of where they are from.
After the in class portion of the workshop, we asked the participants to pick up trash on the way to the pitch. Some of the participants said to me, “there is no trash here”. I told them to take a closer look, there is trash all over, I promise. I started pointing out small wrappers, pieces of paper, etc. The closer they looked, they realized trash was all around them. Post trash pick up we introduced FairFootball to the participants. Halfway through the matches I dumped the trash they collected earlier onto the pitches, to shocked gasps and ahhhhhhs. The participants continued playing with trash everywhere for another 10 minutes. Post match, many of the participants noted how disgusting it was to have to play in the trash and that playing in such conditions opened their mind to the simple reality of how small actions can lead to greater collective change.
It was evident that many – if not all – of the participants understood there are simple climate actions everyone can take and many are already doing so already. They also understood that they have the power to reshape their communities and Football for Good organizations to take greater climate change action. They all agreed upon instigating measures in their daily lives such as re-use/upcycle/use less of numerous resources, encourage reusable water bottles in training sessions, compost at home, do street and beach clean ups, raise awareness about sustainability to those around them, convert to solar energy, etc.
All participants pledged to take what they had learned back into their communities. Their engagement and motivation was overwhelming and their empathy, kindness and readiness to take action showed why they are the future leaders of Football for Good. What transpired during this day was inspirational for us and, we believe, all who participated.
I left them with a strong and passionate message: “Research shows that women are much more likely to take action and spread ideas. You possess the power to change lives, communities and the world we live in. Go back into your communities and spread these ideas and make change happen.”
Women are the change makers and the more we come together to enact change, the greater the impact worldwide.