Leeds United’s promotion to the Premier League is a huge boost to the club’s partnership with Generation Amazing (GA), Qatar’s ‘football for development’ programme which is central to its World Cup legacy.
Nasser al-Khori, Director of Programmes at the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, spoke about that and much more with Gulf Times London Correspondent, Anthony Harwood.
Can you talk about the Leeds partnership?
We launched it last year at one of the home games at Leeds United, at the Elland Road stadium. The partnership emerged with a lot of different outcomes over the last couple of months, especially with the current situation with Covid-19. But despite that we’ve been able to do a lot of different and exciting initiatives with Leeds and Sheffield FC, including the ongoing GALive sessions on social media platforms, in terms of developing the long-term programme for refugees and underprivileged youth around both Leeds and Sheffield. The idea was always that there’d be some kind of tournament and we’d do a ‘train the trainer’ model, and we’d build a physical league for these underprivileged and disadvantaged refugee communities.
Is that happening?
Because of the current situation we weren’t able to launch and it’s been delayed. But we’ve been able to do a lot online. We haven’t stopped the partnership but expanded it to include wider things, with ‘train the trainer’ sessions online. They’ve all been on Instagram and Facebook Live. The Sheffield FC Football Foundation Director, Chris Dolby, is featured on one of our GALive chats where he discusses the partnership with us and how we’re using football for development to inspire youth across the community. People can tune in and ask us questions.
How does the tie-up with Leeds United work?
We have bi-weekly calls not just with Leeds, but with PSG, AS Roma, Eupen in Belgium and Sheffield. We’re also expanding the list to include other clubs in South America, and we recently hosted Flamengo which is a club in Brazil. We’re currently in conversation with Real Madrid, and FC Barcelona have also expressed an interest in our initiatives and we’re also in negotiation with them as well.
Now that Leeds United have been promoted to the Premier League there is going to be a lot of interest in them because they’re a big name and they’ve been out of the top flight for 16 years. How does your partnership with the club work?
We have dealings with the club and the academy there. Last year our Master Coach, Michael Richardson, flew over to deliver training sessions on the Sheffield FC Coach and Horses Ground. We delivered the ‘Football for Development’ Generation Amazing sessions, which is a three-day session where we delivered life skills, communication, teamwork and leadership workshops which is the curriculum we have adopted over the last couple of years, which is aligned with UN sustainable development goals, and which promotes diversity, inclusion, equal rights and common solidarity as well as other themes we promote through football. So we do a lot of different drills and activities on the pitch.
How did the sessions operate?
The trainer sessions were delivered to the refugee and disadvantaged members of the community, the youth populations around the club, but the concept was to create some kind of league and we were in conversations with Leeds and Sheffield on that.
Tell me about the Generation Amazing youth festival you hosted in Doha last December.
The idea was to bring together from across the world different partners and different NGOs who work in this world of football development. We had FIFA Foundation as a partner and it was held at Qatar Foundation. We used the Oxygen Park and flew in a delegation of six people from all the clubs, so Leeds sent a delegation, Sheffield sent a delegation, from AS Roma and all the other clubs that I mention. Plus delegations from the 30 communities and the ten countries we operate in – Pakistan, Nepal, Jordan, India. PSG had an academy and they wanted to deliver a workshop. There were FIFA legends coming in giving motivational talks.
What is the next stage?
Basically we have a youth advocacy component to Generation Amazing and they are used as ambassadors to spread the movement in their own community.
They would come to us when they need support, if they need supplies, balls, kits we would send them all that and they would deliver these sessions in their communities.
They could use their schools – in AS Roma we had kids deliver sessions in their PE class.
At the Doha festival we had chaperones who were coaches that had been trained by GA and were part of Leeds entourage, and helped us by delivering the sessions.
Do you envisage all these people getting together and playing each other on day?
We’ve been in touch with places like Roma, Eupen, Leeds and Sheffield and there’s an impetus to create a network so the teams can play together. That’s an idea which is being explored a bit further down the line after coronavirus, maybe in 2021 or 2022 during the year we host the World Cup when countries can come together and we can have a mini- World Cup for these refugees and disadvantaged children.
What about the interest from youngsters in the UK?
It’s always interesting to hear from the clubs about what they want and what the needs are for their communities. Leeds expressed an interest because there’s a big number of refugees around the club. We wanted to create a more inclusive society involving refugees around a club community. One project can be the league, another can be working with the club to see how we can deliver more sessions by going to schools, connecting with parents, by bringing them to the club to meet others, and being reintegrated in a more comfortable way. It’s not necessarily to play football professionally – more a development programme to help underprivileged youth and refugees in the UK.
Your Generation Amazing partnership with Leeds has been given a big boost by the club’s promotion to the Premier League, isn’t it?
I think given that this partnership is a four-year partnership I’m very excited and delighted that Leeds are returning to the Premier League. We’re all happy for Leeds for that. It will definitely elevate the partnership with Generation Amazing, because we will be developing more projects to be rolled out in the community in Leeds and we’re committed to positively impacting the lives of people around the club
It’s a four-year partnership that goes beyond the World Cup in 2022 so obviously we’re going to see how the vehicle of the World Cup can be used to elevate this partnership and to create more awareness in terms of the football for development movement that we all believe in.
The disadvantaged populations around Leeds want us to help them integrate them with society and give them a better life and a better future, inspiring some of the youth and the leaders of their community. That’s the narrative that we want to form.
I saw a very inspirational video of how you took children from around the world to watch and be part of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. So you were doing that before you even won the bid to host the tournament?
It was not about us winning or not winning the bid. It was about giving back and using football and specifically the World Cup to help refugees in the region. The issue in Syria was very fresh at the time, the Rohingya refugees, mass migration populations around Jordan, a lot of people leaving Palestine. So our leadership decided we wanted to use football to give young people a brighter future to help and inspire them to help themselves through the game, basically.
What is the future for Generation Amazing?
Generation Amazing is four year project going beyond the World Cup and closer to the tournament we’re going to break away and become a stand-alone foundation so it can continue after the World Cup, like any other football for development foundation. We don’t want it just to be linked to an event and then it’s done. We want it to carry on.
How important is football for the mental health and well-being of children, something which is at the centre of the legacy you want to achieve?
Football is a very unifying game – it’s almost magical how football unites people. We always talk about accessibility and reaching different people. The online world means we can reach anyone in the world who has access to the Internet.
Physical and mental health has been affected by this pandemic and we see how important it is especially for young people to stay physically and mentally healthy.
Every day at 4.30pm we have live sessions and that helps create a sense of routine that has been disrupted or lost during the pandemic. It has created a very positive outcome and that’s the reason we will continue to do these sessions post Covid-19, and continue these online engagements.
How many youth advocates have been trained by you, people from disadvantaged backgrounds who to go back to their communities and spread the Generation Amazing word?
About 1,500. It’s very empowering when you hear their stories and how it offers them a life they would not otherwise have received.
I can’t finish without mentioning the World Cup. It’s now two years since the last World Cup and two years until yours in Qatar. You’re entering the home straight and this is where the fun starts isn’t it?
One of the things we have promoted is inclusion – we want to make sure we include all people when it comes to races, nationalities, gender, their religion, whatever their background.
The World Cup has always been seen as an opportunity to bring the Middle East together and closer with other parts of the world as well.
This is very much in line with our religion and culture, of Islam being a unifying religion and all people and all races are equal. It’s an opportunity for the world to come and visit Qatar in 2022 and see what we’re all about.
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