What kind of characteristics spring to mind when you think of the modern-day professional footballer? Overpaid narcissist? Drunken brawler? Obnoxious prima donna?
The media never fails to pick up on the misdemeanours of the world’s favourite sport’s protagonists; but do we do enough to highlight the work of footballers who are investing their time and money into making the world a better place? A little research shows that, despite the stereotype, there are actually plenty of them. Here are some of the most impressive:
Currently spending the latter days of his career in Canada, Drogba is most notable for almost 10 years of successful service at Chelsea, as well as becoming an idol for his national team, the Ivory Coast. In his pomp, Drogba was one of the most feared forwards in the game; however while he will always be remembered for his goals, far fewer know about ‘The Drog’s’ humanitarian work.
The Didier Drogba Foundation will see the first of five planned hospitals in the Ivory Coast opened this year, funded by Drogba and the organisation’s fundraising projects. It is reported that former Galatasary, Marseille and Chelsea striker gave his entire £3 million fee from a Pepsi advertising campaign to the funding of the first hospital, in Abidjan. The foundation also raises funds for orphanages and the Red Cross in Abidjan, and Drogba plans to build schools around the country.
While discussing former Chelsea players from West Africa, we can’t omit Michael Essien. Essien, who now plays for Panathanikos in Greece, uses his foundation to create opportunities and hope for underprivileged people in the Awutu Breku area of Ghana.
Bellamy was a fiery character on the field, never far from controversy. He turned out for the likes Liverpool, Blackburn, Newcastle and Machester City during his career, as well as captaining Wales. Despite his fractious reputation, he has set about making a powerful positive social impact by building a non-profit football academy in Sierra Leone.
The Craig Bellamy Foundation uses football to tackle education, health, youth exclusion and gender inequality. The charity, which Bellamy initially pumped £1.4 million into, provides promising young players with a future, and encourages them to progress educationally by only allowing youngsters who attend school the opportunity to play. According to UNICEF, school attendance rates at Bellamy’s foundation are, at 91 per cent, four times higher than the national average. It also implements youth-led community development projects and delivers health messages about the likes of HIV/AIDS to over 50,000 people.
Beckham is a global star, adored by teenage girls during his years at Manchester United and Real Madrid, and worshipped by football fans across the globe. He is the husband of a Spice Girl, a businessman and a model. And no one will forget that sarong.
But far less well known is Beckham the humanitarian. He is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, supporting the organisation since 2005, and this year launched 7: The David Beckham UNICEF Fund, to help protect children in danger. In his one season playing for France’s Paris Saint-Germain, he donated his €4 million salary to a children’s charity in Paris. Beckham is also a leadership council member at Malaria No More, “a global effort to put an end to the suffering and death caused by malaria”.
Dutchman Kuyt is a former fans’ favourite at Liverpool where he scored over 50 goals and played over 175 matches. The Dirk Kuyt Foundation’s strapline is ‘Sports for All’, and through the organisation Kuyt gives people with disabilities in the Netherlands opportunities to take part in sporting activities. The aim is to improve health and social inclusion, improving participants’ confidence and helping the formation of friendships.
Tommasi played for clubs in Italy, China and England, representing west London’s QPR in the latter. He also turned out for his country, Italy, on 25 occasions. While at AS Roma, one of Italian football’s giants, Tommasi requested to be paid the minimum wage for a footballer in the country, at €1,500 per month. In a world where his teammates could regularly pull in six figures each week, this was quite a statement. He would still be earning more than many of his countrymen, he explained, plus an injury meant he could not offer his services fully to the club.
Tommasi has always been heavily involved in charity work, raising money for children’s hospitals and helping to build housing for immigrants, for example. He became idolised as a hero for his work and stance in the capital, and has even received a papal blessing.
There are many more footballers and former footballers pushing for positive change and looking to help others in the world. Young England and Arsenal player Jack Whilshire is Muscular Dystrophy UK’s new ambassador, while former Liverpool great Jamie Carragher helps the youth of Merseyside through his 23 Foundation. Ryan Giggs is also a UNICEF UK ambassador, and Arsenal player Mesut Ozil donated his bonus for winning the World Cup with Germany to sick children in Brazil in 2014.
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