Phanor Ramírez, a 12-year-old student at the Twin Parks Upper School in New York’s Bronx, cannot believe he’s standing next to one of his heroes, Brazilian soccer idol Ronaldinho.
“He’s a legend,” he says, as he fidgets with a soccer ball he’s waiting for Ronaldinho to sign.
It’s Tuesday, and there are still two days before term begins, but the schoolyard is packed with around 200 soccer-playing youngsters like Phanor, who have seized the chance to spend a few hours with FC Barcelona’s latest ambassador.
FC Barcelona Foundation’s goal is to raise money for its activities, allowing it to reach out to soccer fans in the United States
Twin Parks has been chosen to pilot FC Barcelona Foundation’s FútbolNet, which the club describes as using “sport as a tool to promote holistic development and foster social interaction among kids experiencing serious conflicts at home and performing badly at school.”
The initiative, which is being rolled out in collaboration with New York’s Education Department, will be implemented in one school per borough: Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan and Brooklyn.
“It’s going to be a great experience for our school and our neighborhood,” says Phanor.
“The idea is to take advantage of the change underway among young people who traditionally followed sports like baseball or American football and to establish a presence in that market,” says Jordi Cardoner, FC Barcelona’s vice president. “It’s a way of evangelizing,” he adds.
The Bronx event coincided with the opening of FC Barcelona’s offices in Manhattan, which it aims to use to attract investment in the club.
Eric Goldstein, the executive director of New York’s education department, praises Twin Parks Upper School for its work with vulnerable children. “Talent is universal, but opportunities aren’t,” he says, welcoming FC Barcelona’s initiative.
Goldstein says that the FC Barcelona Foundation hopes to expand the project to more schools throughout New York. “Soccer can be an important tool in the process of universalizing opportunities.”
Many of the youngsters at Twin Parks already play in neighborhood soccer leagues, and will now have the opportunity to play at their own school, which has built an astro-turf soccer pitch as part of the FútbolNet initiative. “Soccer teaches kids teamwork,” says the school’s head teacher, Raymond Granda. “It’s about learning to shoot, but also when not to shoot; it’s about learning how to win and knowing how to lose.”
Gustavo Rivera, who represents the Bronx in the New York State Senate, says he hopes to see youngsters from Twin Parks Upper playing professional soccer one day: “But the really important thing is that kids learn the values that will make them good people when they grow up.”
“There are 1.4 million people living in the Bronx, and we have a very diverse population, so soccer is a way of bringing different communities together,” he adds.
FC Barcelona says its decision to open offices in New York sends out a message to the rest of the United States that it is making a long-term commitment to the country. At the same time, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu says the side has been looking at ways to increase revenue by expanding its presence outside Spain, and that FC Barcelona Foundation’s goal is to raise money for its activities, allowing it to reach out to soccer fans in the United States.
As well as a marketing team and representatives of FC Barcelona Foundation, the club’s Manhattan office will also be involved in setting up training schools to develop local US talent. On Sunday, it opened a training school in Charlotte, North Carolina, while another is planned shortly for New York. At the same time, Bartomeu says that the club intends to set up its own women’s five-a-side soccer team.
English version by Nick Lyne.