Former Arsenal star Patrick Vieira tells The Drum how football can be a force for good off the field

Soccer's image may have been dealt a blow by the Fifa controversy, but one of the sport's most famous faces has spoken passionately to The Drum about how the game can still be a force for good off the field.

The former France star Patrick Vieira and Western Union Foundation president Patrick Gaston told us how they believe organizations can harness the popularity of sports like soccer to make a real impact on the world.

In partnership with the ex-Arsenal captain and Unicef, money transfer company Western Union launched its $1.8m ‘Pass Initiative’ in 2012 with the goal of delivering money for education through actual soccer passes. In May of this year, the initiative met its goal of one million passes by the end of 2015.

“It’s been important for me to be part of this initiative because it’s important to give back to society what football gave me. I achieved all of my dreams because of football,” Vieira told The Drum at the Beyond Soccer Series 2015 in New York City.

The initiative was a game in itself – each successful pass made during the group and knockout stages of the last three Uefa Europa League seasons was transformed into one day of education for those who need it most around the world. As more and more passes were made, each one continued to “unlock” a day of learning.

The money helps provide secondary education for young boys and girls in 10 countries including Nigeria, Jamaica, and Vieira’s home country Senegal, where funds go towards projects such as teacher training and curriculum development, financial literacy, and school improvements.

When it comes to using football to promote education, Gaston said: “We realized that soccer is the most popular sport in the world. We haven’t historically used soccer as vehicle for doing this kind of stuff. The bottom line is, if you can elevate education through sports, something that parents and communities and the public sector can be engaged in, the impact can be powerful.”

He also discussed why Western Union chose Vieira as an ambassador.

“Patrick comes with his credentials. Patrick cares about education and has a long standing commitment to doing great work and how he can leverage his sports celebrity to change the world for the better so we thought he was the perfect person.”

Gaston also noted that the initiative not only helps Unicef achieve its goals but also aligns with Western Union’s customers.

“Schools are a major customer base of ours. We help to pay university tuitions for international students and we move $2.5bn dollars for that purpose. I just think it’s a win-win-win.”

Other players who have helped support ‘Pass’ include USA goalkeeper Tim Howard and Brazilian football legend Roberto Carlos.

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