How soccer can save lives

The children show up to learn how to dribble and pass soccer balls, but they also gain skills that can save their lives: how to spot and avoid land mines and other explosives.

The nonprofit Spirit of Soccer has reached more than a quarter of a million young people affected by current or past conflicts, educating them on the dangers of land mines. The group has worked in Bosnia, Cambodia, Colombia, Jordan, Kosovo, Lebanon, Laos, Moldova and Iraq.

Land mines and explosive remnants of war kill and injure thousands of people every year. Groups like Spirit of Soccer and countries worldwide are working to bring that number to zero.

The U.S., for example, has invested more than $2.6 billion to clear and destroy land mines, unexploded ordnance and other dangerous conventional weapons in more than 95 countries.

British soccer coach Scotty Lee founded Spirit of Soccer after he spent time in Bosnia in 1996 running a soccer coaching program for the British Arsenal Football Club. While Lee was there, three children were killed and four maimed after one of the children accidentally set off a land mine while playing soccer.

Since then, the group has been training local leaders to become soccer coaches, teaching them how to use posters, soccer drills and other ways to educate children on what to do if they find a mine or other unexploded ordnance. Even the soccer balls have messages written on them about land mine safety.

Spirit of Soccer has reached more than 100,000 children in Iraq, where young Iraqi males at risk of joining extremist groups are encouraged to participate in soccer tournaments. “Trauma training” also is provided through the soccer lessons to children there.

Spirit of Soccer says that, to date, only one child who has gone through its safety program has subsequently been injured by an explosive.

Learn more about efforts to clear land mines.

April 4 is International Mine Awareness Day.