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Dec 172013


index Football Beyond Borders: Promoting Tolerance and Social Justice One Kick At a Time

Football Beyond Borders On Their Tour of the Balkans in 2013

There are very few cultural events that are as deeply tied to society as a football match. Whether it is in a Premier League match on a Saturday or children’s league games on a Sunday, society’s strengths and weaknesses are shown for ninety minutes on a grass pitch. During that time period, the casual observer may notice people from different ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds working together to achieve a common goal. But they may also notice prejudice, intolerance, and fear. In a globalized society, football is a microcosm of all that is good and unfortunate about our current world.

While football has been a tool in the past to promote racism and classicism, there are those who choose to use the games as a means of promoting tolerance and social development. One such group fighting for such causes is Football Beyond Borders.

Football Beyond Borders is “an [organization] which uses the power of football to work with young people and tackle inequality, discrimination and prejudice.” Their work has taken them to places like Brazil, Egypt, and most recently the Balkans where they have used the game to build bridges between different ethnic groups and taught leadership skills that go beyond the pitch. In addition to their work abroad, Football Beyond Borders works directly in the city of London on mentoring and leadership projects for teenagers between the ages of 15-21. Their work was chronicled in the documentary Over the Wall.

On Sunday, I spoke with Jasper Kain, Founder and Director of Operations, and Dillon Chapman, Project Lead in the United States, from Football Beyond Borders and discussed their organization’s history, and the difficulty of combating the problems of racism and social inequality both on and off the pitch.


Sean Maslin: What inspired you to create Football Beyond Borders?

Jasper Kain: The idea started back in 2009 when I was attending the London School of Oriental and African Studies. This was right around the time when [Former United States President George] Bush and [Former British Prime Minister Tony] Blair were spouting their War on Terrorism. The idea of elections is that you are supposed to have governments that are meant to represent the people.  So one night in 2009 while some of my teammates [at SOAS] and I were at a pub in London, we decided that we wanted to change the perception that some might have by traveling to the Middle East and scheduling local matches against other players. So we were able to raise the money and go play against teams in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq where we played in a United Nations [refugee] camp. The experience playing against the Iraqis was particularly interesting because we were the first British people who were not wearing military uniforms.

One of the projects that really caught my attention was the work that you did in Bosnia this year, and in particular the city of Mostar. What were some of the difficulties that you encountered when you tried to put on a match between FK Velez Mostar and HSK Zrinjski Mostar?

Kain: One of the difficulties in working in Mostar is that it is still very much a segregated city. The city itself is divided by the Nereteva River, with one side serving the Croat community and the other side the Muslim community. There is a great level of distrust still between the two groups.  We decided to work with the 12-13 year olds because we thought there we would find the greatest opportunity for cross-cultural dialogue. And you could tell between the players between FK Velez and HSK that there was at least some openness. The problem is that you still have an older generation that holds on to the same beliefs.

So do you feel that the problem of re-integration is generational? In other words, do you think the parents and older people in the area had greater difficulties in working with one another more than the kids? Do you think Bosnia and Herzegovina’s World Cup Qualification bid may improve relations in the country?

Kain: First, it is amazing that Bosnia and Herzegovina qualified for the World Cup and it is a good sign for the country’s progress. But there is still a lack of unity in the country you may see more unity among the people in Sarajevo, but even there you find some problems beneath the surface. We were in Sarajevo for one of the qualifying matches and we asked some of the kids, who were Serbian, what they thought of Bosnia and Herzegovina possibly qualifying for the World Cup they were mostly indifferent. One of our team members actually asked one of the kids what he thought of [Bosnian striker] Edin Dzeko and he actually spat on his shoe. So while it is good that they qualified, there is still much to do.

As for the generational issue, I think it definitely plays a role. Those that lived through the war still seem to be deeply affected. It is a country where you still see bullet holes in buildings and other reminders of the war. But you do get a sense that things are getting better. The one concern I have with the youth is that there is a high rate of unemployment and, as a result, there is a strong desire by many to leave Bosnia. Without their presence, the country’s social and economic development may be hindered.

You have already had the chance to go to Brazil in 2012 to work on helping the local communities of Salvador and Natal on being prepared for the World Cup. What lessons did you learn from this trip that you can help apply to your upcoming trip in 2014 in Brazil?

Kain: Out of the 12 countries that we have visited with Football Beyond Borders I think our experience in Brazil in 2012 the concept worked so well because it was so organic. Salvador and Natal both have a tight knit sense of community, and a huge passion not only for football but for working with us on improving employment in the area. We were afforded the luxury of working with a large group of volunteer organizations that were very passionate about their work.  As an organization, we used our experiences in Brazil to help build our London program.

On the basis of the people we met, and with the experiences we had, that we decided it was important to continue the work in line with next year’s World Cup. With our upcoming trip to Brazil, we would like to build off of the legacy of the previous program and hope to work on long-term employment opportunities for their citizens. Although it is great that there is excitement within the communities about the World Cup, they are concerned about the long-term effects and the benefits that will come from this tournament. You could see that with the protests over the summer.  So we are hoping to build off of our experience in 2012 by looking at the long-term situation in Brazil.

Obviously your work ties into what many football associations and FIFA do with regards to racism and international development. Have you had much contact with them?

Kain:  We have not had any direct contact with FIFA but we have some contact with professional football associations in the past. For example We have worked with Celtic F.C. and Al Ahly [Author’s Note: This is a club in Egypt] in the past and have spoken with Crystal Palace. We have primarily worked with non-for Profit, Non-Governmental Organizations as well as local colleges and universities. In the long-term, we would like to build the capacity within civil society and engage the formal bodies within the game.

What I found so interesting about your work is that while you are trying to promote racial tolerance and social justice abroad, you have not forgotten your roots in London.  As an American, I have to say that I was I shocked to hear of some of the conditions of people in London. Here in the United States the narrative seems to be that the troubles in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, which were so strongly tied to football, are now gone. Sure you would see the occasional spike in racism, but it has always been assumed that English society had gotten over these problems. Is there an attempt by British society to ignore these issues, and what role does the game of football play in confronting these problems?

Kain: London is one of the most unequal societies in the world. The top ten percentile of society earns 273 times wealthier than the bottom 10th percentile of London. It is a system that dates back to [former  British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher. The trickle down economic system that is employed is flawed because wealth is not trickling down to London’s poorest citizens. Many people are moving out of the city and into the suburbs, to places like Croydon because they cannot afford to live in the city.

The Premier League is a great example of the inequalities that exist within London, and British society, as a whole. In the 1980’s football was not a popular sport in England. The problems with hooliganism and the Hillsborough incident[1] With the advent of the Premier League, English football has obviously grown in wealth and popularity. But we have not seen this wealth trickle down to the fans nor have we seen an improvement in gender or racial inequality within English Football. More and more fans are being priced out of every game. More could be done to improve the women’s game, and you see very few Asian English players or black managers.

In London, we use football as the hook to get people involved to work on the problems in London. For example, one of the major issues is homelessness. So we regularly schedule matches and tournaments to help raise funds for homelessness. We have worked with the Rio Ferdinand Foundation to talk to kids about “stop and search” procedures, crime, and other issues affecting our society.

Dillon Chapman: As an American, I was very interested in these issues when I moved to London at the age of 19. I was moving to a hotbed of football hooliganism – South East London, just minutes from Millwall’s home ground, The Den. The dynamic of this area is very interesting. On the one hand, South East London – New Cross, in my case – is extremely diverse, boasting a large Afro-Caribbean and Indian population. But on the other, it’s home to very white-centric population of English who are die hard football fans. This contrast can be seen pretty starkly on a Saturday morning at a pub like the Marquis of Granby in New Cross, where the diverse student body mixes in with the almost tribal white Millwall supporters. To see the hatred and racism in its full effect, you only need to attend the match day derby between Crystal Palace and Millwall at the Den. That being said, I believe that overall this is a fading trend. Despite groups like BNP who rally to “protect” white English culture, the cultural landscape of Britain is among the most diverse in the world. Younger generations are increasingly more exposed to people of all walks of life, and tolerance of diversity is the norm. This trend has steadily gained traction in the world of football, as younger supporters from this generation gain voice in the game. Campaigns like Kick it Out, which we have worked closely with, have done an incredible job of increasing awareness of racism in football and have made great strides to eliminate hate and prejudice on and off the field. Football Beyond Borders’ approach is similar, but we have delivered this message from the ground up, working at the grassroots level in communities in London, and all over the world.

What has been your most challenging project so far that you have put on?

Chapman: The most challenging project that for me was the London 2011 International Tournament that I led alongside Jasper Kain and Sam Bailey, both active members of FBB. This was our first project “at home”, where we brought teams from Uruguay, Turkey, Egypt, Finland and London to compete in an international football tournament. The tournament was the platform we used to gain the attention of students around the world, and in turn we were able to engage them in a range of different cultural events and workshops around London, which celebrated the diversity of the city, and helped deliver a more realistic and positive image of its culture. We successfully hosted over 100 students, providing accommodation, food, and transport. The management and successful execution of this project was a very difficult task, but we all took away incredible life experience.

Where do you see Football Beyond Borders going in the next few years? What are some of your major goals and initiatives?  Do you have any plans on doing any work within the United States?

Kain: In London, we really want to cement our roots in the city. On an organizational level, we would like to get our own office and to start fielding a full-time staff. We would also like to start working directly on the subject of football racism.

Chapman: As the first American involved in Football Beyond Borders, my personal goal is to help build a community of likeminded supporters of the Football Beyond Borders mission. I would love to utilize the growing popularity and impact that this game has in the United States to help breakdown some of the fears and prejudices that exist in our society. With such a large Latino community in the United States, the majority of which are massive soccer supporters, I believe the organization would do very well over here. It would certainly help to bridge gaps between communities here, as it has elsewhere around the world where we have worked.

I am planning on taking a 14 man team down to Brazil for our next major project in 2014. I have several interested parties right now, but there is still room in the group for anyone who is interested. Ideally I would like to bring individuals with a soccer background – who are interested in social, cultural and political issues – from a range of locations in the United States. I believe a well-balanced group coming from very different locations within the United States, would be in its own way a great thing for the individuals, and for those who we meet on the project. I think this way, upon our return to the United States, I would have people spread out across the United States who have experience working with our organization who could then spread the message widely across the country. This, I believe, would be the best way to springboard a Football Beyond Borders organization in the United States that could go on to do great work across the country.


How can the general public help you with your work?

Chapman: I think the general public would be able to help best by putting together diverse teams to compete in local matches or tournaments wearing the badge of Football Beyond Borders to help build awareness of our case. Football is everyone’s game. Building a community of Football Beyond Borders ambassadors to tackle inequality, discrimination, and prejudice through community events is a great way to support our cause. We have always strived to use football as the vehicle to build that initial link between different people, and worked to create lasting communities through youth workshops, training and mentoring programs, and cultural events. Anyone can share in this mission.

For more information on how to get involved, you can visit the website at




[1] On April 5 1989, 96 fans were killed and 766 were injured during a F.A. Cup Semi-final match between Liverpool and Sheffield United. Although the deaths were originally attributed to Liverpool fans, later inquiries absolved them of this charge and showed that at least 41 of the deaths could have been prevented had they received proper medical treatment.



Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today, Soccerly, D.C. Soccer, Soccer Without Limits, and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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