Interview by Mike Woitalla
This month marks the third year anniversary of the One World Futbol Project, which has provided more than 500,000 of its virtually indestructible soccer balls to children in 162 countries -- in refugee camps, United Nations hot spots, conflict zones and poor villages throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America. We spoke with One World Futbol inventor and Chief Innovation Officer Tim Jahnigen for this edition of the Soccer Business Insider's profile series on American soccer's movers and shakers.
In 2006, I was home watching a news story about traumatized refugee youth in Darfur. The boys were playing soccer on dirt using a ball they had constructed by tying trash together with twine. I could see these kids had strong, indestructible spirits.
At that moment, I knew I needed to make a ball that would enable them to play as long as they wanted. I immediately started designing a ball that would play like a soccer ball, but would never need a pump and never go flat. My idea remained on the backburner until one morning when I was having breakfast with Sting -- over the years we’d gotten to know each other because I help produce his bi-annual Rainforest Fund Concert.
He mentioned that friends had just financed the construction of a soccer field in Gaza, so I shared my idea for an ultra-durable soccer ball. As soon as Sting heard about my vision for the ball, he provided the initial funding to do the research and development for a prototype of the One World Futbol. In recognition of Sting’s crucial support, the name of the Company and the ball are based on Sting’s song “One World (Not Three).”
Around the World …
I am so proud of our team and our partners who make it possible every day to bring the healing power of play to youth around the world. Since our launch at the 2010 World Cup, we have positively impacted more than 15 million youth with the One World Futbol. And, with the help of our founding sponsor, Chevrolet, and the hundreds of organizations we work with on the ground using sport and play for their peace and development programs, we’ve delivered more than 500,000 balls to more than 162 countries.
The Beautiful Game …
I meet men and women of all ages who dedicate their lives to working in conflict zones and disaster areas, using sports to heal and empower communities; I meet youth who have survived challenging circumstances -- all of whom inspire me and who have given me a new perspective on the meaning of “heroes.”
I often reflect on a story shared by a volunteer who was setting up a sports program in an isolated area of Africa. The volunteer told me that he asked a young boy in the village who his hero was. The volunteer was expecting the boy to say “Beckham” or “Drogba” or another soccer celebrity. But, after pausing, the boy quietly pointed to his playmate -- another little boy sitting next to him. He said, "He's my hero." This, of course, surprised the volunteer. When he asked the boy to explain, the boy simply stated: "He is my hero because he has a long-sleeved shirt that he can wad up and tie into a knot that we all can use for a ball to play with."
* Soccer Background …
I’ve always been athletic; and while I never played soccer, I played many sports. Growing up, I swam, wrestled, played American football, and discovered I had a passion for fencing. But I was turned off by organized sports and I did not like the dictatorial style of many coaches.
I have also lived overseas and am well traveled, so I gained an appreciation for soccer as it’s the planet’s most popular sport. I should add that my wife (One World Futbol Project Co-Founder and Chief Giving Officer, Lisa Tarver) and my two sons are actively involved in soccer, so I got my fair share of soccer through them. When I saw the news program on Darfur, I wasn’t trying to invent a soccer ball per se. The intent was to make a ball that children could play with that addressed a need older than the sport itself.
* Soccer's popularity in the USA ...
Because most One World Futbols are purchased in the USA through our “Buy One, Give One” model, every One World Futbol purchased here allows us to donate a second ball to an organization in need around the world. The One World Futbol touches everyone who sees it and the more we travel, the more we realize that soccer truly is local. You only need to attend a Portland Timbers game to see how passionate the fans are there compared to a city without a team. And we see new clubs forming every month as cities try to capture that fan base. Sacramento's Republic FC is a great example. Dayton, Ohio, is another city using soccer to attract people to move there.
We believe soccer will grow very quickly over the next 20 years, as people who have grown up playing the sport become fans, attend local games, watch games year round, and share this passion and exuberance for the sport with their children and subsequent generations.
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