In 1996, a British soccer coach named Scott Lee returned to Bosnia, where he had spent years driving humanitarian aid convoys during the civil conflict in the region, to deliver a coaching program for UK soccer club Arsenal FC. While he was there a group of children were playing soccer near Sarajevo airport when one set off a landmine. Three of the children were killed, four were maimed. All were under ten years old.
This tragic incident made Scott Lee certain of two things. Firstly, that wherever the location and whatever the risk, children will always want to play soccer. And secondly that this love for a simple game could be harnessed to teach important safety messages and help prevent such incidents in the future. Spirit of Soccer was born.
Spirit of Soccer delivered soccer coaching and Mine Risk Education to at-risk youth from all three major ethnic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina and trained four local coaches to deliver MRE programs reaching 16,000 children aged 8-18.
Spirit of Soccer works with both ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo to deliver MRE programs to 4,000 children living in mine-polluted communities. By 2004, child casualty rates in the former Yugoslavia had decreased to an acceptable level for Spirit of Soccer to focus our operations on other areas.
Spirit of Soccer begins operations in northern Cambodia, where landmines and ERW left behind by years of conflict in South East Asia were killing around 400 children every year. Within two years, child casualty rates had been reduced by 50% in the areas where Spirit of Soccer was active. Spirit of Soccer currently employs eight full-time staff in Cambodia.
Spirit of Soccer begins operations in Moldova, training and graduating 50 coaches (including 20 police officers both male and female) at UEFA 'C' license level to work with children in Moldova and the disputed region of Transnistria to promote ethnic tolerance. To date over 2,000 children have taken part in the project which is held annually at Soccer Peace camps.
Spirit of Soccer begins operations in Iraq, providing MRE in six regions including Kirkuk, Basra and Baghdad. To date we have trained and employed 18 Iraqi coaches, including three women, from various ethnic and religious groups including Arab, Kurd, Sunni, Shia and Christian and have reached over 22,000 children through our MRE programs.
Spirit of Soccer replicates the Cambodian MRE program in neighbouring Laos working mainly with the Hmong community. Spirit of Soccer employs five local staff that have reached over 4,000 children to date.