I can’t imagine a life without sport. Honestly. It just doesn't compute… If you’re reading this, I’m betting you’re a sports lover too – so grab a cup of tea and a fig bar (see what I did there?), have a read of the below and just …. mull it over. I’ll give you a minute:
“Imagine if you’d never had the chance to play sports or games growing up. Imagine no football, hockey, basketball, hopscotch or games of tag. Imagine how different your life would have been, and what a different person you might be today.“
And…. you’re back in the room. Well? When I think about how I might have turned out had I not taken up sport as a youngster, my mind goes blank. There’s literally nothing there - it’s quite frightening.
Fact of the matter is, every face of my personality is so deeply connected to the experiences I've had through sport – that I just wouldn't be me without them. Confidence, ambition, perseverance, communication - all that wonderful stuff that you cram into the first paragraph of your resume, I owe it all to sport. So when searching for a charity to support through this adventure – I gravitated toward finding one that centers on giving kids access to the playtime luxuries I’d been afforded as a child. I had no idea what that might be and so plugged “Charity, Sport, Kids, Play” into Google. Up it popped - Right to Play.
Founded in 2000 by four times Olympic Gold medalist Johann Olav Koss, Right to Play are a global charity committed to giving every child the opportunity to take part in games and sports - regardless of gender, disability, ethnicity, social background or religion. Through sport, these children become constructive participants in society, and play a part in the social change in communities affected by war, poverty and disease.
The story of how it all began speaks volumes about the core aims of the charity. In 1993 on a humanitarian trip to the African country of Eritrea, founder Johann met a group of boys, and noted that one particular 12year old was more popular than the rest. So he asked the young lad why. The boy replied “Can’t you see? I have long sleeves,” and then proceeded to take off his shirt – and tie it into a knot to create a football. This ‘ball’ was used to play in the streets and the game only ended when it was time for the ‘boy with the long sleeves’ to go home. Johan made a promise to the boy to return to the village with a real football.
The following year, Johan went back to the village, laden with not only a football but thousands of dollars’ worth of donated sports gear. Upon arrival he said to the President of Eritrea, “You need food and I have brought you sports equipment. I made a mistake. I’m sorry.” To which the president replied: “This is the greatest gift we have ever received. For the first time we are being treated like human beings – not just something to be kept alive. For the first time my children can play like any child.”
The charity now works with communities in 24 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They use carefully constructed games to teach the kids self-esteem, disease prevention, problem solving, conflict resolution and communication skills. Each program is developed to suit the need of the community in which it’s being carried out. Some learn about the importance of protected sex in relation to AIDS, whereas others play ‘Malaria tag’ - teaching them to use mosquito nets, seek medical help and encourage discussion around how it feels to be ‘tagged’ by a mosquito.
I could go on forever about the incredible work these guys do, really I could, but I’ll let you read more about it for yourself here. Above all, they recognize the fundamental right that every kid has to a real childhood, and truly understand how to harness the power of play to drive real social change. Any organization that aims to give a generation the tools to deal with adversity in years to come - gets my vote, hands down.
So when I’m 70 miles into a day on the bike, and I’m fixing yet another puncture in the pouring rain or blistering heat – when all I want to do is sit at the side of the road with my head in my hands, I’ll think of these kids. Of the ones that don’t even have a football to kick about, let alone a fancy bike to ride. Of the one’s who've never learned enough about the dangers of AIDS and Malaria to be able to take even basic steps to protect themselves against it.
I’ll take the bravery that these children show day in day out, and thank my lucky stars that I was born into a world where opportunities are there for the taking - and I’ll pedal on.
“If you’re thinking about quitting – remember why you started"
Catch you soon,