Monday 14 October 2013

Asia inspired by Premier League community work

League's experience of delivering community projects utilised at AFC seminar

  • Urs Zanitti was taken on a tour of the Kolkata Goalz project by the British Council

  • Joe Lyons spoke about the work of the Premier League and West Ham at the seminar

  • He also saw for himself the good work of the Kolkata Goalz project

  • Sharmistha Dey explained how Kolkata Goalz has helped her

The Premier League's expertise and excellence in delivering community projects was called upon at a meeting hosted by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP) in Delhi last month.

"The Premier League is the standard bearer in world football when it comes to CSR"
Urs Zanitti

The seminar is the first step in a 10-year AFC strategy which aims to increase the number of social responsibility activities in Asia and Joe Lyons, head of community at the West Ham United Community Sports Trust, was one of the guest speakers invited to share his experiences and knowledge with representatives from 12 AFC member associations.

The AFDP was founded in January 2012 and is chaired by FIFA Vice President HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who is also chairman of the Social Responsibility Committee at the AFC. The AFDP aims to increase the level of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in football across the continent and chief executive Urs Zanitti said the Premier League was invited because of its track record in this area.

"We wanted the Premier League to attend because the Premier League and the clubs are really the ones to have community schemes," he told "The clubs do the work that we imagine should be done in Asia. The Premier League is the standard bearer in world football when it comes to CSR.

"I cannot tell our associations to do CSR without bringing in the best-practice examples to show them. They believe in English football on the pitch and the English clubs say, 'we do this for our fans and our community,' that's the way to open their eyes.

'Best practice'

"The level of CSR is very low in Asia and the Premier League presentation will give them a lot of new ideas. It shows that things can be done. I am surprised to see how much the Premier League clubs do take care of their communities. I am glad about that and I would like to share these experiences with the others."

"My life would have been very different if not for this programme"
Sharmistha Dey

For Lyons, the event gave him the chance to showcase not only the work delivered by his club, but the tailored schemes run by other clubs up and down the country.

"All the clubs specialise in different things, we all vary in style and scale and my presentation was an example of how one Premier League club does it," he said. "I talked about the work we have done, the model we use and the synergies regarding the demographics in East London and the links with the Asian community.

"We were fortunate that we have just been nominated in the best CSR and best community scheme categories at the Football Business Awards and that was a nice way to say we have been recognised especially around the work we are doing around engaging Asians in football.

"It was well received and everyone is very keen to work more in the future not only with West Ham but the Premier League."

This week, Prince Ali met Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore to discuss ways in which the Premier League and the AFDP could work together in the future.

Life-changing Goalz

The delegates at the seminar heard how Premier League projects can turn around people's lives when 14-year-old Kolkata Goalz project participant Sharmistha Dey told her story. Goalz, a partnership between the British Council, the Premier League and partners on the ground in Kolkata including the police and a number of the professional I-League clubs based in the city, is a scheme inspired by the hugely successful domestic project Premier League Kicks.

"It's a totally different place to what it was before Goalz"
Joe Lyons

Goalz uses football to engage youngsters in areas of high deprivation and crime and runs football coaching, cultural programmes, education, health checks and football tournaments. It has been such a success that more than 1000 youngsters now turn up to the 12 weekly sessions.

"I am very grateful to the English Premier League, British Council, Kolkata Police and Mohun Bagan Club for giving me the opportunity to participate in this wonderful programme," Dey said. "My life would have been very different if not for this programme. In our community, girls do get some education, and sometimes a job, but the ultimate aim is always to get married and have a family. While these things are important to me, after joining Goalz I can feel the difference within myself. I now have an identity of my own."

As part of the trip, both Lyons and Zanitti saw for themselves how Goalz works when they went to see one of the 12 projects in action.

"The main thing that hit me was the numbers and the dedication from staff with no real facility," said Lyons. "I went to one session right out of Kolkata which was so lawless and vulnerable that, up until two years ago, it wasn't even served by police. There was a waterlogged field, it was just mud, and there were 100 children playing football.

"The police were saying this is the best thing that's happened to their community with the young people. It's a totally different place to what it was before Goalz. It was very, very positive."

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Key Points

  • Premier League invited to present at AFC corporate social responsibility seminar in Delhi
  • West Ham's Joe Lyons gives a presentation on the community of the Premier League and its clubs
  • Lyons also visits the Kickz-inspired Kolkata Goalz project