The focus is on the original football. The fun of playing, the passion. The sport that unites people and peoples.
Berlin/Hamburg | 30.08.2018 I Sometime in early 2016, Roland Bischof visited Gernot Rohr, the former national coach of this African country, in Burkina Faso. Rohr was at that time one of the nominated coaches for the award as “German Football Ambassador” and Bischof, as founder and impulse generator of the initiative on the spot, took a look at the circumstances under which the nominee provided football, but also cultural and social development aid.
“As one of three nominees, Gernot Rohr proposed a sports and education project that we would support as an initiative of the ‘German Football Ambassador’. There was a small classroom in a tiny, simple building that functioned as a mini-school”, says Bischof.
The plaster crumbled from the walls which at first glance simply seemed to be due to the dilapidation of the building. But Gernot Rohr explained to his visitor: “This is not dilapidation, but two weeks ago there was another revolt here in the village and these are all bullet holes”.
Gernot Rohr working for FOGEBU in Burkina Faso. Photo: German Football Ambassador ©2018
Stories like these show that the job of football coaches can also be a dangerous one. At least for such coaches as Rohr or the patron of the now non-profit association, Rudi Gutendorf, who has worked as a football coach at 55 stations in 30 countries during his long career, including many crisis areas. This makes it all the more appreciated when German trainers move around the world, impart knowledge and values there and provide development aid. The “German Football Ambassador” wants to draw attention to these people and promote and support their demands.
The “German Football Ambassador” was founded by Roland Bischof, the owner of a marketing agency for athletes in Berlin. “I have travelled around the globe in my private life as well as in my job and have always liked to do something sustainable in the football sector”, the 53-year-old looks back on the beginnings of the initiative. Bischof, who looked after professional footballers such as Thomas Helmer, Torsten Frings and Sebastian Rode, used his network, contacted his friend Rainer Holzschuh, the publisher of the magazine “kicker”, and put his heart and soul into the initiative.
Roland Bischof (right) visiting Gernot Rohr in Burjina Faso. Photo: German Football Ambassador ©2018
The action got around, at one time the Goethe-Institut, among others, joined in, the name recognition increased. In 2013, a “German Football Ambassador” was awarded for the first time. In the run-up to the award, Bischof and his people had put together an expert jury whose task to date has been to nominate three football coaches working abroad once a year. Former footballers and celebrities such as Doris Fitschen, Uwe Seeler, Lutz Pfannenstiel, Steffi Jones or Peter Lohmeyer have been or still are part of this jury.
“From the very beginning, there was broad support, a lot of passion, energy and also material resources that were brought in”, Bischof proudly says. He regards the “football ambassador” as “my baby”, into whom he also poured a lot of money from his own wallet. Because if something was missing, it was money. “We have no grants, no subsidies, no nothing. We have to do all this ourselves and of course we are now trying to find a few sponsors”, says Bischof.
Cooperation with the DFB has not yet taken place for various reasons. External financiers who were willing to add something, but then suddenly wanted to have their say and make things as they pleased were rejected. “We will not be bought up. We do not want to be exploited for other campaigns or similar. It’s our own project, our idea with our thoughts.”
Miroslav Klose (m.) received the Honorary Award German Football Ambassador in 2017. On the right Roland Bischof, on the left the former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. Photo: picture alliance / Robert Schlesinger
In addition to the award in the main category described above, the honorary prize for exceptional commitment is also awarded once a year to a German coach or player abroad. There is also an audience award, in which eleven active players working abroad are nominated and the winner is elected in a public online voting process that runs for several weeks. In recent years, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Emre Can and Loris Karius have been among the winners. “We also want to have flagships, especially to attract younger football fans, which is why we have introduced the Audience Award”, Bischof explains.
But the focus is on the original football. The fun of playing, the passion. The sport that unites people and nations. “It’s all about the good cause”, Bischof sums up, but then he says: “It’s great fun to see what football can still do and to see that honest values can still play a role. The worse things get in commercial football, the better it is when there’s honest commitment somewhere.”
In this way, the “German Football Ambassador” has been able to carry out important projects and development work in recent years in Nepal, Singapore, Namibia, Sudan and the Philippines, among others. And the commitment should continue: “The more people know about it, the better. We want to show that there are places beyond Germany’s borders where completely different conditions exist and where it makes sense to help”.
One example is Burkina Faso, where the FOGEBU project proposed by Gernot Rohr received the prize money of 3,000 € and further support from the Federal Foreign Office. Rohr himself soon had to leave the country with a heavy heart – the explosive political situation left him no choice.