EWING, New Jersey — The following are five soccer players, some retired and some not, who although spread across different leagues and speaking different languages are all alike in their commitment to fostering international development and fighting international poverty:
1. Craig Bellamy
Those aware of this Welsh midfielder’s more-than-colorful past may be surprised on his inclusion in this list of charitable individuals, let alone topping it. Bellamy’s soccer career has been characterized by an unfortunately long series of controversial altercations with both the players and the management on the various teams of which he has been a part. These have worked to overshadow his achievements on the soccer field and generally were the cause for his frequent transfers to different teams. His most infamous incident, no doubt, occurred while he was a member of Liverpool FC and it involved Bellamy drunkenly assaulting his sleeping teammate John Arne Risse with a golf club for not partaking in karaoke earlier in the night.
However, whether in spite of or due to this problematic past, Bellamy has become one of the soccer world’s leading philanthropists, dedicating himself and a significant chunk of his money into a project aimed at helping Sierra Leone’s children.
Investing $650,000 of his own money, Bellamy launched the Craig Bellamy Foundation League in 2009 with support from UNICEF. Using soccer, this league aims to bring positive change to the live of children in Sierra Leone by promoting universal education, gender equality, and sustainable development. With 1,600 children currently in the league, the foundation is attempting to promote school attendance by mandating that if the children want to participate they must go to school.
Bellamy also built Sierra Leone’s first ever football academy in 2010. It offers a five-year scholarships to children aged 11-years-old to 13-years-old and gives them a place to eat, sleep and attend school inside the facility all the while providing top-of-the-line soccer facilities. Altogether, Craig Bellamy’s work in the past five years has been the biggest investment in Sierra Leone’s sport in the last 30 years.
2. David Beckham
Perhaps soccer’s most iconic name, Beckham has proven himself a vital ally in the fight against international poverty. Known for his free kicks and ever changing and ever fashionable hairstyles, Beckham is a founding member of the Malaria No More United Kingdom Leadership Council, alongside fellow British Sportsman Andy Murray. This council works to engage individuals and private businesses to provide life-saving bed nets, among other critical tools, to needy families in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease, primarily carried by mosquitoes which the bed nets help protect against, is the current number one killer of children under 5 years of age in sub-Saharan Africa.
Beckham also is a UNICEF ambassador and in this role has helped spread awareness on various humanitarian crises in places such as Sierra Leone and the Philippines. In this function, he met with the United Kingdom prime minister, David Cameron, in 2012 to call for more action on the subject of global child malnutrition.
3. Lionel Messi
This 27-year-old Argentine forward for Barcelona FC is widely considered the current best in the sport. He has won the FIFA Ballon d’Or a record four times. However, in addition to these achievements on the soccer field, there has been a series of equally admirable achievements off the field in which he has directed both his energies and his finances into fighting global poverty.
His main charity work started in 2007, when he founded Fundacrion Leon Messi. This is a charity dedicated to increasing access to health care and education for vulnerable children. In this capacity, it has funded projects for schools to be built and various health initiatives against diseases to be enacted not only in his home country of Argentina, or Spain, where he has spent most of his professional soccer career, but across the entire world.
In addition to this, in 2010, he became a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador to raise awareness over various crises throughout the world. Later in 2010, he went on his first mission for UNICEF going to Haiti in order to highlight the difficulties people are facing there.
Also, just last year, he donated $130,000 to help the children of Syria who have been victimized by the current civil war.
4. Didier Drogba
Born in 1978, Drogba is a current striker on the English Premier League team Chelsea, and has compiled an impressive list of achievements on the soccer field in his 36 years. However, this former captain of the Ivory Coast soccer team has proven himself to be dedicated to more than soccer and goal scoring, but also to the fighting of international poverty.
In 2007, Drogba created the aptly named Didier Drogba Foundation, an organization that helps to provide both financial and material support to the health and education of people in Africa. So far, this organization has provided a lot of monetary support and help across Africa to various institutions, including: helping the Red Cross in Abidjan, helping build and finance a hospital in Abidjan and helping finance the construction of orphanages in Grand Bassam. Current goals for the organization are to help construct more schools in the Ivory Coast.
5. Michael Essien
This former Chelsea and current AC Milan midfielder has shown himself incredibly devoted to the funding of various aid operations in the country in which he was born and raised, Ghana. Essien has done this by creating the Michael Essien Foundation.
This foundation is a nonprofit based in Ghana that works to help the under-privileged in the Awutu Breku area. With this goal in mind, the foundation has promoted and financed the construction of basic public amenities in the area. This has included the creation of both bore holes in the area to provide water, as well the creation of public restrooms to help provide for the sanitation needs of the people in Awutu-Breku.
Essien has also sponsored the creation of several different youth events in the area aimed at providing increased employment opportunities and has sponsored a literacy campaign that took effect in a number of Ghanaian schools.
Thus, while it is at times easy to feel annoyed and perhaps mildly outraged when considering the massive paychecks professional athletes receive each week, here are five athletes that use their wealth to finance and create various programs around the world directed at the economic empowerment of those less fortunate than themselves.
– Albert Cavallaro