In Switzerland, the access to sports clubs and other hobby clubs is often hampered for foreign children and teenagers due to structural and individual reasons. This situation is unfortunate since club structures usually enhance integration and social cohesion (Infoklick.ch, 2013). Taking this as a starting point, Laureus Street Soccer established an open, intercultural street soccer league for children and adolescents between ten and 21 years – it is a low-threshold project and free of charge. The target audience are thus underprivileged children and adolescents – mostly young migrants. The children themselves determine the composition of the teams, the effort for trainings and the rules of the game. Laureus Street Soccer thereby pursues different objectives (see Infoklick.ch, 2013). First, these adolescents should be empowered to be an active part of a team, to participate in decisions, to assume responsibility and – as a consequence – to experience self-efficacy and to develop social skills. Second, within the teams, foreign and Swiss children play together what fosters mutual understanding and helps integrating young migrants. Third, doing sports promotes health and channels the energy of the youth in a positive way.
The underlying idea of the project originated in Munich, Germany, in 1997 under the name ‘Bunt kickt gut’ (may be translated as ‘Mixed Teams Kick Better’). The initiator of the project in Munich, Rüdiger Heid, used football as a tool to increase the communication and the understanding between adolescents in refugee centres. Subsequently, a league of different centres evolved – and the successful project has now been transferred to other German cities. In 2005, the association Infoklick.ch imported the idea into Switzerland and started a pilot phase in the city of Berne. However, the programme was not applied to refugee work, but established as a free street league for every child and adolescent. Infoklick.ch is a private association dedicated to a strong and self-reliant development of children and adolescents – independent from their origin, their education and their means. The organisation is convinced that it often only needs a little support – a room, some specific expertise, a power outlet, a contact or some start-up capital – for children and adolescents to put their own ideas into practice (Infoklick.ch, 2014). Infoklick.ch thus provides this needed support.
The street soccer league attracted a lot of interest from the local youth and, subsequently, the concept was continuously expanded to several regions of Switzerland. Due to the spatial distribution of the population and especially of immigrant families, the programme thereby is more successful in urban areas. The organisation of the street soccer league is regionalised: Infoklick.ch represents the umbrella organisation and provides support in developing new regional leagues and connects the regional organisations on the national level. Thereby, it employs eight persons for the project: two people share the national management and six persons are in charge for the regional agencies, which implement the programme in these areas. However, the responsibility lies with the regional actors – often public institutions for youth work or non-profit associations. These regional partners must be self-supporting and are responsible for the fundraising, the finances and the organisation of the regional leagues.
In 2007, the international sports foundation Laureus started to make a financial contribution towards the street soccer league. Laureus is dedicated to promote the personal development of children and adolescents through sports and thereby focuses on the support of underprivileged young people (Laureus Foundation Switzerland, 2014). The concept of a free intercultural football league thus fits their agenda very well. In 2013, Laureus limited its financial contributions to only four social sports projects in Switzerland – the street soccer league subsequently became a flagship project of the foundation and receives now enough funds to entirely finance the national umbrella function of the initiative. As a consequence, the name of the project was changed to Laureus Street Soccer.
In Zurich, the initiative first started on an independent basis. Pascal Pauli, current national head of Laureus Street Soccer, together with two colleagues had the idea to make the public space in the city of Zurich more accessible to young people. In the public discourse, adolescents were often portrayed as troublemakers disfiguring the public space. The three young men thus wanted to change this image and make young people use the city parks and places in a positive way. They therefore founded the association ‘Raumfang’ in 2007 to implement a street soccer league in Zurich. While developing the project, they came across the similar initiative of Infoklick.ch and consequently joined the national network. Their financial resources stem from public sources such as the sports promotion of the canton of Zurich.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Pascal Pauli emphasises that diversity is crucial for Laureus Street Soccer: “It is all about different cultural backgrounds – children of all nationalities and ethnicities come together to play.” As an important objective of the initiative, Laureus Street Soccer should enhance mutual understanding between Swiss and foreign adolescents and help to develop a strong team spirit. However, according to Pascal Pauli, racism is sometimes an issue in tournaments where some teams insult others. Therefore, Laureus Street Soccer highlights fair play rules and awards points for exemplary behaviour.
In the beginning, Infoklick.ch also implemented a guideline regarding diversity in gender: every team needed at least one girl. However, this policy could not be sustained for long. On the one hand, numerous teams could not find interested girls – on the other hand, several young women felt more comfortable to play in girls-only teams. Currently, across all teams, there are around 15% girls playing both in mixed and in girls-only teams.
Main factors influencing success or failure
Laureus Street Soccer definitely constitutes a very successful project in fostering integration, social mobility and social cohesion through sports. According to Pascal Pauli, the form of sport is thereby replaceable – it just requires a popular game to transmit the values and the objectives of the initiative. There are several factors that contributed to this success. Of course, the strong commitment of Infoklick.ch and the numerous local associations paved the way for a sustainable development of the project. Regarding the fast expansion of the street soccer league, the engagement of the public institutions for youth work in different cities and communes was pivotal. It was a very promising strategy to spread the idea of a free multicultural street soccer league by involving these communal institutions and benefitting from public funds. Furthermore, the extensive financial contribution of the Laureus Foundation Switzerland was very welcome and enabled a substantial professional and personal development of the umbrella organisation.
Since the initiation of the project, the organisers were never confronted with serious problems. In Zurich, the financial situation was often rather strained and the labour turnover rate quite high, but the initiative was never jeopardised. However, the initial concept of establishing an open framework that leaves room for a lot of self-initiative did not work out as planned. In the beginning, the initiators in Switzerland assumed that the teams would act more proactively and autonomously – just like the experience from Munich showed. But the participating children and adolescents were very much occupied with school or work and therefore not ready to show extensive commitment. So, the local youth was always very interested in joining the street soccer league, but the organisers had to provide more structure and guidance than originally expected.
Laureus Street Soccer brought a new concept to Switzerland: it established an open, intercultural football league for children and adolescents that is free of charge. Its innovative potential lies in enabling young migrants easy access to sports and club structures, to empowering underprivileged children to assume responsibility and develop their social skills and thereby helping to improve their social mobility.
According to Pascal Pauli, there are still some growth opportunities for Laureus Street Soccer and a lot of children who could benefit from participating. Thereby, he perceives growth not as an end in itself, but he believes in the concept of the project and considers it a good cause. Therefore, he is very optimistic about the future development of the initiative.