CHICAGO, Illinois – As we watch the events of the 2014 World Cup unfold this summer, we will frequently be captivated by the impressive skills displayed by the greatest players on the biggest stage. However, before embarking on this journey in Brazil, it’s important to recognize the contributions these athletes have made off the field, especially since many elite players have dedicated substantial time and resources toward improving the lives of the world’s poor.
Born in Awutu Breku, Ghana, Michael Essien, from humble beginnings, continues to invest in the disadvantaged Awutu youth. The Michael Essien Foundation’s main focus is to provide basic resources to this poverty stricken region by constructing libraries, public toilets and clean water dispensing facilities. However, the AC Milan star also organizes a number of soccer related events to instill hope and provide personal encouragement to his hometown Ghanaians. Last year, the “Game of Hope and Inspiration” raised 80,0000 euros to improve the region’s infrastructure.
In terms of international football, Essien is currently fighting for a spot on the Ghanaian National Team. However, after such a prolific career with club giants such as Chelsea, Real Madrid, he is confident his work ethic will land him on the roster.
Perhaps the most discussed soccer player on the planet, Lionel Messi never ceases to amaze when he steps on the field. However, the four time Ballon d’Or winner has amassed a strong humanitarian reputation off the pitch as well. The Lionel Messi Foundation provides resources to underprivileged children to facilitate economic and social betterment. Recently, the Foundation erected a community center in Añatuya, Argentina in order to reduce local schools’ drop-out rates and combat drug addiction among at-risk youths. Messi has also been selected as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador as a result of his many contributions toward helping vulnerable kids in Spain and Argentina.
Regarded as the best player in the world by fans and critics alike, Messi will be a regular starter on Argentina.
Known for his tireless work ethic on the pitch, Dirk Kuyt has directed some of his seemingly endless energy supply toward benefiting impoverished communities. The philanthropic striker established a foundation that aims to empower disabled youths. In it’s early years, the organization assisted impoverished children in Ghana and Brazil. Kuyt also helped establish a community center in Nepal that sheltered orphans diagnosed with HIV. Recently, the Foundation has narrowed its focus to improving neighborhoods in Holland’s inner cities, by hosting sporting competitions amongst the disabled.
Kuyt has enjoyed an illustrious career with the Holland national team, including an incredible run to the World Cup Finals in 2010. However, the Netherlands National Team features a number of world class strikers, and Kuyt is not guaranteed a roster spot. Yet, the savvy veteran has the experience, track record and leadership to make a difference in Brazil.
Although the Luis Suarez’s antics inside the 18-yard box has subjected him to considerable criticism, the striker has earned a humanitarian reputation off the field thanks to a sizable donation to his community. As a Christmas gift last December, Suarez donated a 10,000 euros to Uruguayan children’s center that supports children with neuro-muscular conditions. “I am delighted to help the Teleton initiative, and I am very grateful to William Hill for their donation to the charity.”
Suarez has enjoyed remarkable success at Liverpool FC and will be featured as one of the best strikers at this years World Cup.