Initiator Roland Bischof talks to DW about a social engagement, small stories and the simplicity of football. He experienced just how much of a difference an individual cane make, both in a positive and negative sense.
DW: When did things get started and how did the idea even come about?
Roland Bischof: The idea first came to me back in 2011. A year later we made it public and from 2013 onwards, we had the prize awards. It all started on one of our many journies. I noticed that football was always a key project for us. I've spent my whole life meeting Germans who have been involved in exchanging ideas. Some have always been extremely enthusiastic, others less. The question was: how is football connected to the engagement of Germans abroad? That's where the idea was born and I had to make sure I didn't have any tunnel vision. I spoke to Rainer Holzschuh ("kicker" publisher), who has 40 years of football experience, about his thoughts on the matter. We became partners and kept pushing the idea. It's just as much fun as it was when we started.
How did you get things started?
I contacted people that I met in my career so as to gather ideas and to find out whether or not they wanted to get involved. Almost everyone got involved and that motivated me to keep going. One thing that I couldn't believe was that nobody tried to do something similar. Initially, we highlighted five countries and once I visited the first few, such as the Philippines, people still recognised the likes of Rudi Gutendorf even though it had been decades since his last visit. That made me realize how much of an effect one person can have in one county, in both a positive and negative sense. It's a huge responsibility that German players and head coaches carry, and it's brilliant to see how they've handled it all.
What does it take to get nominated?
It's definitely not about who plays the best football! Success is an important element that stands out and brings recognition, for both an individual and a country - but it's not the only criteria. The social components and engagement off the pitch are very important. The exchanges between the head coach and the people and what he does outside of training is an essential ingredient. On every journey we went on, it was great to see how well everyone has been integrated. The best example is our first prize-winning football ambassador, Holger Obermann, who worked on a social project of ours in Nepal. The prize he received confirmed just how much work he has done over the last 30 years. Sadly, not much is written about it in the media as it happens abroad, and that's why we wanted to give Holger his deserved time on stage.
Have you got another example of how football made a social difference?
It takes time for social differences to happen, but some head coaches have made individuals more confident. This was often the case with children in rehabilitation programmes through football, such as in Burkina Faso with Gerner Trober or Winfried Schäfer in Jamaica. Something that stood out for me was how Monika Stab, a winner in recent years, has decidated a large part of her career towards women's football in muslim countries. I visited her when she was head coach of the Qatar women's team and it's difficult to make something like that happen over there, but her knowledge and engagement have allowed her to make progress.
What's the goal for the future?
Every nomination is combined with a social project. It's not about randomly sending money somewhere, it's about engaging in a county and sustainably managing a situation and staying in touch with the locals. We want to show how engagement, particularly abroad, can really make a difference - and that football is the start of that. Even if prominence is important, see Jürgen Klinsmann in America, we are not just focused on the big stories. Prominence is coupled with the unknown people who also do wonderful work.
Why is it that so much change happens in the world because of football?
I think it's something you only start to appreciate when you travel around. You constantly hear football being talked about, played and adored. I think it's about simplicity. You have a ball and you just get started straight away and that brings people together, because you can play the game anywhere. On top of that, there's the huge media interest and the stars who have the job of acting as role models. It's a shame that some take front and center even though some continue to do fantastic work behind the scenes. My job is to write about these small stories, and to do that we need partners.
The interview was conducted by Steffen Focke