Atlanta‘s soccer field at the MARTA Five Points Station was honored in New York on July 28 with the Sport for Innovation and Technology Global Award from Beyond Sport, a global organization that develops and supports the use of sport to create positive social change across the world during a ceremony at the top of the One World Trade Center on July 28.
Sanjay Patel accepted the award on behalf of Soccer in the Streets, an Atlanta-based organization dedicated to empowering underserved youth through sports-based training, character development, mentoring and employability programs. Mr. Patel, a member of the Soccer in the Streets board of directors, envisioned “Station Soccer” as a way of connecting transit and soccer to provide access to the sport.
“Collaborations through partnerships will be critical in moving the needle in the field of social impact sports, Mr. Patel said in a release. “Fortunately, our local partners Atlanta United Foundation and MARTA were believers – now the train really has left the station.”
His remarks were echoed by Phil Hill, Soccer in the Streets’ executive director, who said, “This is certainly a new high for us as an organization. We are looking forward to working hand in hand with the Beyond Sport Foundation and key partners in order to executive our development and expansion plan. We are pursuing more opportunities and platforms to impact underserved youths; we have seen the power of sport to achieve social change and we will continue to harness it.”
Jose Devarez, Soccer in the Streets’ director of development and communications, told Global Atlanta that Mr. Patel’s vision of developing other soccer fields at MARTA stations and developing teams, which would compete against each other, is closer to reality than ever before. “We have a proposal in front of MARTA,” he said. “It will be up to MARTA to decide but we have the funding for a new station playing field and the prospects look good.”
He also said that already Soccer in the Streets has been approached about applying the concept elsewhere in the U.S. “I can’t identify who but another NFL team owner is interested, and we’ve been approached by a number of groups.”
According to the release, Soccer in the Streets is to receive funding from the Beyond Sport Foundation because of contributions from Comic Relief and the Swedish Postcode Lottery as well as receive business support including fundraising from GivenGain and monitoring and evaluation intelligence from Upshot.
The Beyond Sport Awards is an annual program that searches out projects from around the world that use sport to address issues within their communities. Soccer in the Streets’ Station Soccer was one of 13 winners chosen from 250 entries from 70 countries.
The program currently donates $2 million worth of funding and business support annually. Since 2009, Beyond Sport has held major events in London; New York; Chicago; Cape Town, South Africa; San Francisco; Philadelphia; Glasgow, Scotland and Johannesburg, South Africa and provided over $5.5 million worth of funding and support to projects across six continents addressing a range of social issues.
The awards were overhauled this year to align with the United Nation Millennium Development Goals in the belief that sports are an effective and game-changing approach to addressing extreme poverty, inequality and climate change.
Nick Keller, founder and president of Beyond Sport, said in the release, “Now, more than ever, all sectors need to contribute to the UN Millennium Goals, and we believe that it is crucial to shine on the role sport is playing in this endeavor. Tonight’s winners and shortlisted organizations show that throughout the world, sport can be harnassed to improve lives and create sustainable social change in a remarkable way.”
Since its founding in 1989, more than 4,000 young people have been enrolled in its programs. The recently launched ATL Nations Cup provides yet another avenue for blending soccer and life skills training.
Also attending the New York ceremony were: Olympic Gold Medalists Donna de Verona and Nastia Liukin, and Nia Jax and Sami Zayn of the WWE and Evander Holyfield, four time heavyweight boxing champion of the world.