Professional and amateur sports practice has seldom experienced so many losses worldwide, as with the pandemic by Covid-19, which is still without an end in sight.
In addition to professionals and significant world competitions, training, schools, and young athletes have been particularly affected. Gyms and schools support the general population in achieving a healthier life. The role of sports is widely recognized by governments, namely fighting the pandemic itself and the consequences of confinement. In this sense, executives seek to adopt extraordinary measures of financial support in the context of the health and economic crisis making waves throughout the world. There are also many examples coming from civil society: associations, clubs, schools and others have tried to support athletes in this challenging phase.
A solidarity movement in football: "From Football to Life" has already helped more than 400 players
With the pandemic outbreak last year and with football provisionally cancelled, several players and people linked to the modality faced severe difficulties in Portugal.
At that point in time, the captains of Real Sport Clube and Loures, Ibraim Cassamá and Hugo Machado, got together and, in a conversation, realised that their colleagues were going through deprivation. The championships stopped, many players didn't receive the already meagre wages, which in some cases were no more than 200 to 400€ a month.
The association "Do Futebol para a Vida" ("From Football to Life") was born. To date, it has helped over 400 players and around 160 families. More than just essential goods, the association tries to facilitate access to psychological support, among other types of assistance.
The association jump-started on social networks and quickly some great professionals joined the movement, as was the case with Cristiano Ronaldo, José Mourinho, Bruno Fernandes, Sérgio Conceição, Jardel and dozens of others.
The problems are more dramatic in the lower divisions, often with very young players who come from abroad in pursuit of the dream of playing professional football, now faced with a lack of essential goods, housing or even a way to communicate with their families.
The promoters of this association, which have done a lot in a short time, are relentless and are already in the process of creating similar support movements in Angola or Brazil.
The association also created, in the outskirts of Lisbon, the "Life Space", which consists of a house with 16 beds offering temporarily shelter to players in need of a quick response for housing.
This is an exceptional example of solidarity that shone a light on the hardships faced by small clubs and their players, in no way comparable with the international football that makes the headlines. The pandemic shows that the business of football is in urgent need of a rethink and change.
The general situation and the EU's measures and recommendations
In June 2020, through deliberations of its Council, the European Union issued an official document for sport, with indications for all member states.
The European Council (EC) recognized that the sports sector was strongly affected by the pandemic, mainly economically.
As a guideline and concrete measures for member states, the EC aims to "support the sports sector through the EU's available and eligible programs and funds, namely the Erasmus + program, the European Solidarity Corps, the cohesion policy funds and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development".
The aim is to "explore, in line with national priorities, and in cooperation with the competent bodies, the possibilities offered by horizontal measures and relevant initiatives, namely the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII), the Investment Initiative in response to Coronavirus + (CRII +), temporary support to mitigate the risks of unemployment in an emergency (SURE) and the temporary framework for state aid measures, as well as other EU recovery initiatives".
Recent support in Portugal
The Portuguese government issued, this past month of March, a grant of 65 million euros directed at the sports sector, namely clubs and federations.
35 million will be part of the Support Fund for the Recovery of Physical and Sports Activity, aimed at non-profit sports clubs. The biggest slice - 30 million euros "on a non-refundable basis" - of this fund is "for direct support to sports clubs in the process of resuming federated sports activity", according to the executive. The remaining five million will be distributed between the 2021 Sports Facilities Rehabilitation Program, PRID 2021 (3 million euros), and the National Sports for All Program, PNDpT 2021 (2 million euros).
The remaining 30 million makes out a credit line within the Federations + Sports Program's scope, aimed at sports federations with public utility status.
Despite some in the sector are unhappy with these measures, seen as insufficient, at least this time the government created specific and additional support aimed at non-profit sports organizations, in recognition of the importance of sports clubs as the base cells of the sports system.
In conclusion: between public support and autonomous civil society movements, such as that of the "Do Futebol para a Vida" Association, what matters, in 2 tough years like 2020 and 2021, is to support athletes, sports and in general keep their spirit of resilience and solidarity. Sports is one of the forces that most can help society, as a whole, to recover physical and mental health and successfully overcome the health crisis.