Tommaso Pozzato

The project: Balon Mundial

What is Balon Mundial?

Balon Mundial is the world cup of migrant communities living in Turin.

Simply said, it’s a football tournament which, just like the real World Cup, spans June and July. But rather than once in four years, we hold it every year. And the national teams are made up of migrants who live in the metropolitan area of ​​Turin.

But there’s more behind this simple idea. Balon Mundial is not just a sports tournament – it’s an excuse to bring together people of different cultures that enrich our city, to gather them around a football field. It’s a large crowd: multiplying 11 players by the number of teams, we end up with nearly 800 men and 200 women who represent 32 nationalities. Of course, the audience is even larger.  

Thus the tournament becomes a perfect meeting spot for people with different cultural backgrounds, and an opportunity for them to proudly express their national and cultural identities. On the pitch everyone carries their banner, but off the pitch participants mix and exchange life stories, leading to meaningful conversations and relationships – that cannot be taken for granted in a large city with multiple communities. 

Our Italian society divides people along a pretty simple line: “we Italians” and “they, migrants”. At Balon Mundial, “they” appear with a variety of details. Each community, but also each person exhibits cultural, national, religious particularity, uniqueness. Thus, Balon Mundial serves as a space where to break down prejudices; get to know people of different origin; learn more about them and create real bonds. That’s where a player might hear: “You’re good, would you come to play at our club in September?”. Differences in ethnicity or religion cease to divide people. What matters is their common passion for football. 

The first edition was held in 2007, so in 2020 – if not suspended due to COVID-19 safety measures – we will hold the 13th one! Since 2011 we’ve introduced the women’s tournament, at the initiative of women. 

In 2012 we founded the association “A.S.D. Balon Mundial” to promote football4good – football events with positive social impact, ones that contribute to social inclusion, against all forms of discrimination, against inequalities.

We promote extra events for the Balon Mundial community. One is Football Communities, the qualification tournament focused on projects and organizations that deal with the reception of refugees and asylum seekers in Italy. Another one is Waiting for Balon Mundial, friendly matches for city districts to bring cultures together throughout the year through training activities and other educational activities that promote active citizenship practices and raise awareness about countering all forms of discrimination. S.EL.FIE is our training course for social impact sports educators, Football3 is a programme for schools. 

From this year on, we would like to focus more on female empowerment. The international programme Breaking Barriers powered by Adidas will lead us to support the training of 5 young sport leaders. 

What is your role within Balon Mundial?

I have served as the President of the association since 2013, but I started playing in 2009.  I fell in love with the atmosphere I’ve experienced around the fields. On the field it was quite exhausting but still exciting. My multi-ethnic team played against “national teams”. Each one had its uniforms, anthem, fans. As a football fan, I kind of fulfilled my dream of playing in a World Cup!

For the next edition, I applied to help in organizing as a volunteer – and continued to play. Then I was among the founding members of the association. I have gained experience as a volunteer, then a coach of the team of asylum seekers and refugees, then volunteer’s coordinator, and eventually became the President. Since then, my goal has been to make the association grow, amplify its message and spread awareness of the fact that football might be an excellent educational tool. I strongly believe that the emotions and experiences that Balon Mundial has given me over the years should be passed on to as many people as possible.

What makes your daily business stand out the most? 

My daily activity in Balon Mundial has changed a lot over the years as the association was growing. I have always been involved, and today even more, with the development of the association and its activities, looking for innovations that would allow us to increase the impact of our projects. I remember the creation of the Ethics Charter of Balon Mundial which has introduced changes to the rules to encourage fair play. It has also facilitated reaching out to international networks to which we now belong, and which help us a lot in the development of our activities and communication efforts. 

In practice, in early years it all translated into a healthy volunteering commitment, based very much on multitasking, from organizing the tournament to maintaining the relationships with teams, institutions and sponsors. I trained our team directly, wrote projects and much more. This has allowed me to understand the multiplicity of phases and aspects behind an activity that aims to stimulate a social change through sport. I also understood how important it is to communicate our ideas and showcase the work we do. 

We have created a small but efficient work group with very transversal skills, and thanks to this group, today I am able to focus almost entirely on searching for new solutions and consolidating those already in place. We invest a lot of time in looking for ways to increase fair play and to foster the encounter – between the players within our community, and between this whole community and the rest of the local community of Turin, always promoting the concept of football4good.

Connecting Balon Mundial teams and communities to the local community is one of our great challenges which generates beautiful collaborations. We strive to get involved as much as possible with local stakeholders, associations, institutions. 

In recent years we were very excited to collaborate with the Museum of Egypt. Its President Evelina Christillin is an athlete and the only woman on the boards of UEFA and FIFA. She and the entire staff of the Museum have really embraced and supported our concept – that a cultural exchange is the way to overcome prejudices and discrimination. We had the opportunity to carry out the draw of the Balon Mundial rounds in the Statues’ Room of the Egyptian Museum, a moment of indescribable beauty: the representatives of our teams and communities surrounded by artefacts that embody millennia of history. The Museum has also offered us tickets for Balon Mundial at a symbolic €1 each, and spaces for press conferences. These perks were so simple to organize yet so beautiful and impactful for all who have participated.  

What three adjectives would you use to define your activity as a Local Hero?

Innovative: because in Italy explaining that football is an educational tool rather than a business is difficult. We have to overcome various prejudices when we introduce ourselves to third parties. Once people participate in our events or activities, they understand that everything is very different than in a typical sport event, but the beginning is always uphill.

Exciting: because I am simply a football fan. Each goal, slide, parade gives me joy. When you match it with people from all over the world who are cheering together, and you think people’s lives are somehow improved thanks to it all, when you notice how individuals grow and change their way of thinking and overcome prejudices, notice and protest discrimination… the emotion is even greater.

Performative: because after all we are all athletes or sport practitioners. Sport teaches you that if you work every day, you keep improving. Your goal is always to be better than you were before. We also apply this philosophy to our projects. And we are lucky to keep meeting outsiders who help us to look at the world in novel ways, notice new limits to overcome.

Who is a Local Hero that inspires you? 

Muna Khorzom from Syria, a human rights activist. She’s a really special girl with incredible resilience. She transforms every experience into an opportunity to save lives and promote human rights.