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Futbalo Girls & Dragones de Lavapiés: Promoting Equality Through Football

Beyond Sport X Under Armour Participant Spotlight

September 1, 2023  

As our #SportForSocialChange retail donation campaign in partnership with Under Armour kicks off today in Germany and Spain, we’re spotlighting the participating charities that are using sport to inspire and teach valuable lessons to youth. Today meet Futbalo Girls, which works to break down gender-specific barriers and empower girls through football in Germany, and Dragones de Lavapiés, which promotes dialogue between people of different cultures through football in Spain. 

In Germany, women earn 19.2% less than men as compared to the average Europe pay gap of 14.1%. This is reportedly due to ingrained cultural stereotypes and biases, poor access to childcare and lack of educational opportunities. This inequality has also been seen in sports across the country, where there’s a dominance of men amongst sporting directors, coaches and heads of scouting. Low sports participation rates amongst girls and women can be traced to this lower socio-economic status as often, families with a lower income adhere to more traditional gender roles. Overall boys’ sport participation rates (80%) are significantly higher than girls’ (20%) across Europe. Amongst both groups participation peaks between 12 and 14 years old.

Spain is one of Europe’s largest migrant destinations, with a foreign-born population of more than 7.3 million and is also home to many refugees and asylum seekers. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in 2022 over 25,000 people had arrived in Spain. Additionally, 27.8% of the population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion due to inflation and and rising energy costs. The country’s main food bank network predicted that demand would rise by a fifth by year’s end, driven by the pressures of inflation on people living on low incomes. Child poverty is equally prevalent with one in four Spanish children living in "chronic poverty" or at risk of social exclusion, impacting the school dropout rate which sits at an alarming 25%.

Futbalo Girls 

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Reportedly the largest girls’ football initiative outside of organised sports in Germany, Futbalo Girls is a club program that strengthens and empowers women and girls through football. It breaks down gender barriers, provides positive role models and delivers a comprehensive training program that combines physical literacy with soft skill development. The organization organizes weekly training sessions, camps and events only for girls. It is a program of the association “Integration through Sport and Education” eV and is supported by local and regional partners. 

The initiative emerged from pilot studies that had the idea of integrating young girls in socially disadvantaged regions of the country into society through sport, and specifically football. Initially operating in Oldenburg in northwest Germany, Futbalo Girls expanded to over twelve locations across the country between 2006 and 2009 as a result of a grant from the German Football Association. 

“The selection of new locations was made following a careful analysis and based on specific criteria. It is particularly important for us to operate in neighbourhoods characterised by social deprivation, where girls and women do not have the opportunity to decide autonomously to play soccer/football,” said Program Manager, Hannes Teetz, who explained that the program is tailored to meet the specific needs and circumstances of each region. 

This is necessary to ensure that we can effectively support the girls and women locally in their personal and athletic development. Through these measures, we aim to continue contributing to the social participation and empowerment of girls and women in and through football.” 

Teetz shares that the main challenge facing girls and women in the country is a gender pay gap which leads to women being underrepresented in leadership positions across various fields such as business, academia and politics. Additionally, women experience inequality in sports and are significantly less likely to participate in sports than men. This is prevalent among socially disadvantaged girls and women, and especially those with migrant backgrounds. The inequality in sport is compounded by male dominance in football specifically, which the program works to change. 

The challenges are complex and interconnected, affecting not just girls’ participation in sports but their broader life opportunities. Futbalo Girls sees football as a powerful tool to empower girls and provide them with opportunities to succeed. The sport boosts self-esteem and confidence and offers girls the chance to develop essential skills such as teamwork, leadership and social competence. Above all, football is accessible and requires minimal equipment, meaning that girls across Germany can experience its benefits regardless of their barriers. 

“The importance of extending opportunities beyond the football field lies in the interconnectedness of sport and broader societal roles. While empowering girls and women on the field is a significant first step, it's equally crucial to carry that empowerment into other aspects of life. Focusing solely on athletic development would fall short of addressing the comprehensive personal and social growth that we aim for," said Teetz.

"By offering avenues for development, vocational training, and personal growth, we create a more enriching environment that allows the skills and confidence gained on the field to be applied in real-world settings. In this way, football serves not as an end but as a means to achieving broader life goals, enabling girls and women to become well-rounded individuals who can thrive in various aspects of life.” 

As an example, the program engaged with a young girl who had speech and cognitive delays, which meant that she attended school with an aide. After attending sessions run by Futbalo Girls, she no longer needed the aide to engage in activities and improved her football skills and social skills. She scored her first goal at the end of her school year, which not only highlighted her personal achievement but also the sense of community and support within the program. 

In 2022, Futbalo Girls reached 1,527 girls per week through 71 weekly sessions. Additionally, through 28 event days, it reached an additional 1,022 girls and was able to provide 120 educational hours via women's football workshops. In recent years it has also developed a specialised platform/app through which its volunteers can access various educational materials and resources to further the program’s reach and work. The program also provides opportunities for girls and women to coach. 

With funds raised from the Beyond Sport X Under Armour campaign and seed funding provided by the retailer, Futbalo Girls will enhance the educational content on its platform/app. It will invest the funds into the quality and scope of resources to better equip our volunteers with the tools they need to effectively engage and empower more girls. 

Dragones of Lavapiés
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Based in Madrid, Spain, Dragones de Lavapiés is helping to bridge the gap between people of different cultures through football. Operating for more than 10 years with 20 teams totalling 400 players and more than 50 different nationalities, its programs are based on integration, equality and respect through sport. 

The non-profit was launched by a group of parents who wanted Lavapiés - a historic neighbourhood in Madrid – to have its own football club. They also desired a space that would offer quality grassroots football training that was affordable. “We wanted football to be accessible for all and a tool for communication among culturally diverse people. As soon as we started playing matches, we discovered the necessity of tackling racism when we saw kids were being racialised and verbally abused,” explained Dragones President, Dolores Galindo. “We respect identities and demand respect. We believe that we can build a society where justice and opportunities are open for everyone including women, refugees, disabled people and those from the LGBTQIA+ community.” 

Through its work, the organisation supports its community to overcome prevalent challenges including a lack of access to spaces to play, discrimination and child poverty. 33.4% of children in Spain live at risk of poverty and social exclusion. “Houses are small and expensive, so children don’t have access to public spaces to develop and play. Often, families are evicted and the high poverty rate is linked to school drop-out rates and a lack of educational opportunities. Discrimination is also prevalent and a challenge that our society must overcome.” 

Intersectionality and diversity are essential to Dragones, which is diverse by nature. It has many programs that are dedicated to tackling racism, increasing girls' and women's participation and LGBTQIA+ inclusion. All link back to football – an important element of Spanish culture and society. 

“Football plays a central role in Spain. Our football club mirrors the diversity of our Madrid neighbourhood. We believe in the power of diversity and our mission is to promote bonds of solidarity and respect within the community, fostering dialogue between people of very diverse backgrounds and cultures. Football helps us to create these dynamics and also supports the development of life skills and more in our community.” 

Galindo shares that when the club started programming, it discovered a gender gap that needed to be addressed. When mothers from Moroccan, Spanish, Brazilian and Italian backgrounds started attending the club, Dragones created a women’s team. This encouraged more girls and women coaches to join the club. A few years ago, the non-profit created a new space specifically for women and girls to train. 

Nine-year-old participant, Olga, wanted to be a goalkeeper but was met by many who doubted her ability to learn. Her perseverance on the field and the opportunities to play and develop football skills through Dragones taught her how to be a goalkeeper, and a good one at that. It’s these kinds of girls that Dragones nurtures through its programming to impact its community on and off the field. 

“Football has a profound positive impact on kids’ development and helps us to create dynamics and habits that can be replicated in other areas like academia and adult life. We focus on developmental growth as well as football training.” 

The funds raised from the Beyond Sport X Under Armour partnership will help the club deliver its programs which consist of two hours of training, a football match for up to 250 children and an English and Maths program.

Learn more about the incredible organisations we're working to support in the UK and Europe HERE. If you live in Germany or Spain, please consider visiting your local Under Armour store to support #SportforSocialChange! 


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