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What: love.fútbol is a non-profit that mobilizes and engages communities to plan, build, manage, activate and redefine their own football pitches as sustainable platforms for social change.
Why it matters: World Cup is the perfect time for organizations like love.fútbol to connect with global brands to spread their messages and maximize their visibility.

We have seen the impact “The Beautiful Game” has on communities big and small, especially around World Cup this month. How can one create bigger initiatives tied to soccer, from the grassroots to the biggest stars, whether the Cup is glowing or not? That’s where love.fútbol (@lovefutbolhas thrived.

We wanted to learn more about the organization’s mission, its origins and its success that continues to evolve, so we asked co-founder and CEO Drew Chafetz (@DrewChafetzto tell the story.

Portada-Online: What was the genesis of love.fútbol as a brand?

Drew Chafetz: “The idea for love.fútbol was conceived in December 2005 while traveling through a small town in central Morocco. I came across a small group of young children playing soccer in a back alleyway that had a dangerous canal running lengthwise through their makeshift pitch. I have been very grateful in my life to soccer and the inherent benefits that playing the game gave me, and had been fortunate to travel extensively as a child connecting with kids my age through the game. For the first time it occurred to me that children might not have a safe place to go to play soccer. This simple game is a fundamental opportunity for youth around the world and ensuring it is the premise of our mission and organization.

The love.fútbol brand stands for the global connection we have through passion for soccer. Across languages, cultures, religions, economics, race and all else that may divide us, there are universal mediums of self-expression – like sport, art, music and dance – that remind us of our shared humanity. The “dot” in our name represents this global connection we have through soccer, and more expansively through sport, but also serves as a pivot point to embrace and represent other mediums of self-expression that bond us.”

Portada: Where have you seen the greatest impact?

Drew Chafetz

D.C.: “The communities we serve drive love.fútbol sports infrastructure projects. As a result, the greatest impact we see comes from community engagement. On average, locals invest 2,500 volunteer hours to make each safe space a reality. As a result, spaces become tangible symbols of collective strength and success for the community and the impact is much further reaching. Sports spaces become centers of community that host long-term youth development programs through partnerships with local NGOs, diverse events and activities, and can include multiple revenue streams to sustain the space and programs through social enterprise.”

To play and have passion is a fundamental opportunity to connect with oneself, one’s community and the world.

Portada: The Latino fan base is going to be key in the US for World Cup growth, why is it so powerful, and untapped, by sports business in the US?

D.C.: “Regardless of where you go, brands must find a way to connect with consumers on an emotional level, which often means making impact on the community level. There is great need for community sports spaces in lower-income communities across Central and South America, as well as at home here in the USA. Sport can help us make these connections to original and second-generation immigrant communities that are deeply connected to their home countries, but living in the USA.”

Portada: How can and do brands tie to your programs?

D.C.: “Since 2010, brands such as ESPN (@espn), Coca-Cola (@CocaCola), Unilever (@Unilever), Under Armour (@UnderArmour), UEFA (@UEFAand Manchester City (@ManCity), have sponsored love.fútbol projects around the world. We align social impact and a more sustainable approach to the development of sports facilities with priority markets of our brand partners. Sponsors benefit from enhanced PR and community relations, unique storytelling and content, and a turnkey opportunity to engage local offices, employees and stakeholders as active partners in each project. For example, hundreds of ESPN employee volunteers from local offices in Rio, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Mexico City, Bogotá and Bangalore have gotten their hands dirty alongside locals on community build days.”

Portada: You have many examples of how soccer has changed the lives of young people through your program; give us one or two examples.

D.C.: “Together with ESPN, love.fútbol has built multi-sport courts in six communities across three continents and mobilized more than 1,280 community members who contributed over 7,600 volunteer hours to the projects. These spaces are used every day and benefit close to 6,000 children and young adults, and indirectly their families. In each community, local NGOs were trained to deliver long-term programs using sport to teach life and job skills delivered to 1,237 youth, 68% of whom graduated from the program, and a majority of which went onto gain employment or further their formal education.

We are happy to share a full impact report with any interested parties.”

Portada: Why is sport, especially soccer, such a powerful element in positively impacting lives?

D.C.: “With more than three billion fans, soccer is the world’s most popular sport and is deeply embedded within the culture of communities across the globe. The game’s great strength is its simplicity — that it can be played almost anywhere, allowing children to be creative and play despite sometimes highly challenging circumstances around them. To play and have passion is a fundamental opportunity to connect with oneself, one’s community and the world.

Beyond the inherent health and life skills benefits of playing sports, such as teamwork, leadership and discipline, sport has great power to serve as a hook for grabbing people’s attention and energy that can then be channeled in new directions. In our sector of sport for social development, myriad social impact outcomes are delivered through curriculum-based programs that focus on health education, job training, peacebuilding, gender equality, and helping the homeless get themselves back on their feet, to name a few examples. A sports space with community ownership can be used to address any given community’s most pressing social needs.”

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Portada: How can you use the power of the World Cup to grow your efforts?

D.C.: “Soccer gives us a lot and throughout the world people are grateful. We believe there is no clearer way to give back to the game than provide youth the opportunity to play. The World Cup is the pinnacle opportunity for the ecosystem of sport, business and society to come together around this ideal. We work with players, fans and brands to raise awareness, sponsor projects and build community through sport. love.fútbol was named as an official partner of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, so we are excited to play a more formal role in four years!”

Portada: Where do you think love.fútbol can be in say, three years, as an element of social change?

D.C.: “love.fútbol is the global leader in mobilizing and empowering communities to create sustainable sports spaces as platforms for long-term social change. Right now, we are working to scale our methodology to reach more communities and strengthen our leadership role in the sport for development sector through helping organizations reach more youth with their programs. Every neighborhood around the world stands to benefit from the power of sport – we aspire to help communities reach this potential.”

Cover image: love.fútbol inauguration day festivities in El Coyolito, Mexico City, with project sponsor Manchester City

Jerry Milani is a freelance writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 25 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and now is the PR manager for Wizard World, which runs pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America. Milani is also the play-by-play announcer for Caldwell University football and basketball broadcasts. He is a proud graduate of Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at Jerry (at) JerryMilani (dot) com.

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