By Bradley Dowling
It was standing room only as the House of Commons committee rooms hosted a conference to discuss football clubs and International Community Development.
With sport never higher on the political agenda following the success of the Olympics and Paralympics, the Connecting Communities All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and the APPG for football joined forces to look at how British football clubs can build ongoing sustainable links with the Global South for mutual benefit and development.
The Football League Trust, in conjunction with BUILD (Building Understanding through International Links for Development) helped to set the agenda for the day, which included presentations from the community trusts at Swindon Town, Brighton and Hove Albion, Charlton Athletic and Notts County as well as the PFA and the British Council.
The Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson MP, praised the work of The Football League community trusts for the 'great export' of these development programmes.
"We are enormously grateful for the work you do in this area and the goodwill it creates," said the Minister, "football is an extremely transferable sport and a common language."
Jon Holloway, Trust Manager at Swindon Town FITC, described the relationship his charity had developed in Livingstone, Zambia, over the last eight years. Having originally made the connection through a tournament in Sweden, Holloway had been touched by the sacrifices the Zambian team had to make to get to Scandinavia, and wanted to help in whatever way he could.
Swindon Town FITC have since made three visits to Livingstone, initially doing some coaching and making kit donations, eventually helping to rebuild a school and run the areas first ever organised football tournament.
"Initially the priority was equipment," said Holloway.
"We take it for granted in this country that a coach turns up for a training session with a bag of balls. In Livingstone there would be one ball for the whole school.
"Now we're past that it is about a continued commitment. There are now 35 active qualified football coaches in Livingstone, with future plans to further develop girl's football, disability football and host reciprocal visits for the Zambians in Swindon."
Matt Parish from Charlton Athletic Community Trust also emphasised the importance of a sustainable commitment to international community development work.
"Going once, raising hopes and not following up is worse than not going at all," said Parish, of Charlton's work in South Africa. In conjunction with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and British Airways,
Charlton Athletic have been working right across South Africa since 2003. Sustainable programmes are running in a number of townships across Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban with 75 qualified coaches in each hub.
Jacob Naish described an extraordinary range of work that Albion in the Community (Brighton and Hove Albion) had been involved in from Burkina Faso and Mali to Kosovo, Jordan, Russia and Indonesia.
Steve Hill, Community Director at Notts County FITC described a project that took young people not in education, employment or training from inner city Nottingham and trained them for development work in South Africa.
Claire Perry MP, as Chair of the Connecting Communities APPG, hosted the event and invited questions from a large audience of MPs, sports governing bodies, charities and football club charities. The work of The Football League club trusts was continually praised, as was their ability to generate the funds to make these projects sustainable.
Mike Evans, General Manager of The Football League Trust said: "Today's conference has been a fantastic showcase for our trusts' international development work, and I would like to thank Claire Perry MP and Joan Walley MP for making it possible.
"There is so much more that football in this country can do for the Global South, and through partnerships we have developed and rekindled today The Football League Trust will look to play a role in facilitating that process."
For more information regarding international community development work at The Football League Trust, please contact Mandy Gardner via firstname.lastname@example.org.