From national tragedy to global action
streetfootballworld was officially founded in 2002. But the origins of the organisation can be traced back further than that – to an own goal that rocked the world.
"Life doesn't end here. We have to go on. Life cannot end here. No matter how difficult, we must stand back up. We only have two options: either allow anger to paralyse us and the violence continues, or we overcome and try our best to help others. It's our choice. Let us please maintain respect. My warmest regards to everyone. It's been a most amazing and rare experience. We'll see each other again soon because life does not end here."
These were the words famously penned by Andrés Escobar shortly after his own goal sealed Colombia’s exit from the 1994 World Cup. Life did not end there for Escobar. Not quite. It ended days later when he was shot dead in a Medellin car park. According to eyewitness reports, Escobar’s murderers mocked his own goal as they pulled the trigger. Their attack was unprovoked.
The senseless killing of a man admired for his commitment to fair play created international headlines and ignited a deeper passion in Jürgen Griesbeck, a German PhD student based in Medellin at the time. It led him to investigate the escalating violence in Colombia and consider new approaches to conflict resolution. This, in turn, led him back to football.
Jürgen found it was only on the football pitch that armed young Colombians seemed willing to engage in dialogue, with football proving a catalyst for communication and cooperation. Drawing on this insight, he developed Fútbol por la Paz (Football for Peace) – a youth project that used football to combat violence in Medellin.
Fútbol por la Paz was not your average football programme. Guns had to be left at the front door, teams had to include a gender mix and disputes had to be settled by the players themselves – not referees. Hardly conventional, yet highly effective. Before long, participants began to reimagine their lives away from the pitch, leading to an increase in social mobility and a decrease in youth mortality. All through the power of football.
Jürgen soon realised that Fútbol por la Paz was not alone. All over the world, organisations were using football as a tool to tackle their various local issues, from AIDS prevention to social integration to gender equality. But there was a problem. There was very little collaboration between these organisations and, by extension, very few opportunities to share experiences and exchange knowledge. Something needed to be done.
With this in mind, Jürgen founded streetfootballworld in 2002 – a global organisation that connects grassroots initiatives like Fútbol por la Paz and amplifies their impact. The journey since then has been nothing short of remarkable: