Soccer as a force for mass change
Why we’re so excited to help launch Common Goal
For the past 5+ years, whenever anyone’s asked what my dream project is, I’ve answered that I believe there’s an opportunity to use sports to bring us together — to find common ground between communities, ethnicities, generations, genders—and that I would really like to help build something that does that.
That answer has come not just from a personal love of sports (definitely some of that), but also from a belief that the single greatest challenge humanity faces is our disconnection from each other. When we can understand each other—really understand each other, not just the caricature of each other portrayed through simplistic media or social media narratives—then we’re able to find common ground, look after each other, and make progress on difficult issues like climate change.
At a time when ~50% of Americans don’t trust their neighbors and almost everything feels politicized and polarized, one of the few things that can spark a warm, human conversation is last night’s game, or the upcoming trade window, or that amazing, life-affirming play.
Over years of talking about this interest, I’ve got to be involved in some great initiatives, including working with FC Barcelona & The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on a partnership to raise polio awareness, working on the strategy for what became Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Sports Matter initiative, and recently, an upcoming global initiative around sportsmanship building citizenship (more on that soon).
But nothing has the scale of global soccer. In an era when hyperbole is rife, I don’t think there are many human endeavors that reach more people. The last World Cup was watched by 3.2 billion people; by contrast, the moon landing was watched by ~500 million people, Christianity has 2.2 billion followers, Islam 1.6 billion and Hinduism 1.0 billion. Only the Olympics rivals soccer in terms of viewership, but the events are infrequent, whereas there are high profile soccer games happening around the world every day.
Over time, I’ve written about the potential for the global game to think more like a movement than an entertainment franchise, and I’ve written in the advertising trade press to implore major sponsors to take a stand. But the game has frustratingly remained stuck in a paradigm of elite entertainment, without realizing its potential for creating positive impact in the world.
Common Goal launches today. It’s a visionary idea from a visionary organization, streetfootballworld. Streetfootballworld is a network of 120+ grassroots organizations around the world using football for social progress, from getting kids out of violence, to getting them engaged in education and HIV programs, to building gender equality.
The idea of Common Goal is simple: 1% of player salaries are committed to a common fund that benefits these grassroots soccer programs. In this way, the power of the elite global industry is connected to the game’s power to lift young people up.
Juan Mata—of Manchester United and Spain, and winner of the World Cup, European Championship, Champions League, FA Cup… and more—is the first player to commit.
The ultimate aspiration is that every player — and then every club, sponsor and league—may join. If so, the global game could contribute ~$500M to grassroots programs, every year.
And what gets me even more excited is what Jurgen Griesbeck (CEO of streetfootballworld and the force behind Common Goal) said to me the first time we talked: a second part of his ultimate aspiration,
to achieve a mindset shift: that people start to understand things from a one-humanity perspective. The passion of soccer is something special. Football can transcend everything. Create an example of how the world could work.
Of all the ways to creatively create oneness — the mechanism of Common Goal is one of the best I’ve seen.
As Juan said in an amazing Players Tribune story,
What I was doing in my career wasn’t just about me. It was about us. I was playing because I brought joy to people in different ways than just by scoring goals…
…almost every day I am reminded of the power football has to unite people all over the world.
I’m asking my fellow professionals to join me in forming a Common Goal Starting XI. Together we can create a movement based on shared values that can become integral to the whole football industry — forever.
I am leading this effort, but I don’t want to be alone.
One of the first lessons I learned in football is that it takes a team to accomplish your dreams. We live by this mantra on the pitch, yet we don’t see it enough in the social space. Common Goal is creating a collaborative way for football to give back to society. It’s the most effective and sustainable way that football can deliver long-term social impact on a global scale. Football has the power to do this, but we need to act together.
I feel lucky that enso played a very small part in the launch today—but we will be active champions from here on out. To Jurgen, Juan and the broad team that put together Common Goal—we’re proud to be on your team.
You can join Common Goal here.
*A special thanks to my friend Neill Duffy of Purpose+Sport who set us on this path.