The Craig Bellamy Football Foundation (CBF), located in Tombo, a town 15 kilometres from the fishing city of Waterloo, represents Sierra Leone’s only professional football academy. Launched in 2007, Craig Bellamy a former Wales international footballer who also played for clubs including Norwich, Newcastle, West Ham United, Manchester City and Liverpool, has contributed £1.4 million of his own money into the non-profit Foundation describing it as his “legacy” to football and development.
Although applicants for the Foundation are selected primarily on their footballing abilities and potential, the Foundation, also places a strong focus on improving the education of all participants. Its mission is to “nurture the athletic, academic and personal development of the country’s most promising sporting talent, [to help them] secure footballing and education placements overseas.”
Bellamy has also been instrumental in the creation of a football development league across Sierra Leone, a country similar in his size, to his native Wales. The league spans over the country’s four main regions – Freetown, Makeni, Bo and Kenema – and involves over 2000 children, both boys and girls, who represent over 100 teams in the under 12 and under 14 age groups. Participants are strongly encouraged to regularly attend school, respect fair play principles and deliver positive health messages and social development projects that are of benefit to other young children and communities.
The CBF’s results have already been impressive. Those enrolled in the Foundation and youth teams have achieved average school attendance rates of 94% which is more than four times higher than the national average for secondary education (21%). Over 500 youth-led community development projects have been implemented and great support has been obtained from local stakeholders. Gender equality, especially for girls and women, has been promoted and empowered by improving girl’s school attendance rates and by actively involving them in community development projects. More than 50,000 people have been delivered potentially life-saving health messages on issues like hygiene sensitisation, malaria and HIV/Aids. Finally, over 100 female and male youth leaders have been identified and trained to overcome self-exclusion and identify suitable career pathways.
The importance of sport towards achieving sustainable development has been acknowledged on multiple occasions by the United Nations as it “contributes to well-being regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.” Sport is also helping to encourage “peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contribution it makes to the empowerment of women and young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives.” Studies conducted by the World Health Organization have shown how regular physical exercise can stimulate positive mental health and cognitive development while exercise, in general, can lead to positive improvements in self-esteem and confidence and help people struggling with anxiety and depression.
Yet, many challenges still exist in order for sport’s true potential to be fulfilled. Cases of intolerance, racism, hatred and violence still regularly occur during sporting matches. Corruption, in many different forms, also affects sport and its impact to support development. Challenges also still exist in Sierra Leone. The recent deadly Ebola epidemic that affected Sierra Leone and other neighbouring west African countries was one such example, with CBF staff, concerned that they might have to close down the academy due to grave health and safety concerns. Non-profit initiatives like the CBF will require further support and an increased recognition that programs like this should be part of a broader ecosystem and network of opportunities and support provided and supported by many different stakeholders including the government and the private sector.