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FC Barcelona Foundation's, Lucy Mills on football culture in Africa, and democratizing football

(Summer 2021)

I'm so happy to share Lucy Mills' story! The football fanatic speaks Catalan, Spanish and English as she currently serves as FC Barcelona Foundation's International Projects Program Manager. Lucy inspires me because of her dedication towards making football a globally accessible sport.

Please read on as Lucy shares her experiences with football cultures in Ghana and South Africa, her football inspirations, and how she currently works on improving access to education all through the perspective of football!

Wandering eyes, this is Lucy Mills' story...


(Photo courtesy of Lucy Mills)

When did your passion for football begin?

I loved sports from a young age and played football, field hockey and tennis socially and competitively throughout school and university. I have early memories of doing kick ups in the garden with my dad and playing on the primary school boys´ team. In later years, one of the most impactful football experiences was playing for the University of Cape Town in 2008 and 2009. There were nine different nationalities on the team, from Namibian and Angolan to Danish and Norwegian. We travelled together for tournaments, advocated to improve issues we were facing as female footballers, such as unequal pitch time or lack of funding, and we laughed a lot throughout – the best thing about team sports!

You’re from the UK, lived in Ghana, went to grad school in South Africa, and now work in Barcelona. All of those environments have rich football cultures. How would you describe the football environments in those places?

That's true. I have lived in several football hotspots which have shaped my feelings and understanding of the various dimensions of the game. In South Africa, I experienced the football culture as a fan, player, coach, and practitioner. I watched Banyana Banyana games (with the mandatory vuvuzela!), was inspired by women's football pioneers such as Fran Hilton Smith and Portia Modise, and worked on the official legacy campaign of the 2010 FIFA Men's World Cup.

The legacy campaign was all about using football to promote social development (education, gender equality and health). As a program manager, I worked on football and social programs in Botswana, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, women's football activists, players and practitioners in South Africa were continuously breaking new grounds and it was remarkable to see years of hard work coming to fruition, for example, South Africa competing in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Now I live in another rich football culture, Catalonia. The Spanish province is a huge sporting capital and there is so much going on. FC Barcelona is a club steeped in Catalan traditions, values and plays an important role in Catalan society and countries worldwide. I will never forget watching the men's El Classico, FC Barcelona versus Real Madrid, in downtown Beirut at a live viewing party organised by the Beirut Barça fan club – thousands of people captivated by Barça and the crowds erupted when Barça scored!

(Here's Lucy playing football in Ghana! Photo courtesy of Lucy Mills)

How have they impacted your perspective on football?

What I have learnt from the various football cultures is that football can engage and touch people like few other things can. For this reason, there is a transformative potential and power of football. On the other hand, I experienced and been exposed to the darker side of football too; the sexism and racism, the narrow-mindedness and egos. Things are slowly changing but we still have a long road ahead of us to make football – and sport – inclusive and accessible for everyone. There are persistent barriers and discrimination that many people face because of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, religion, dis/ability… which had led to persistent and pervasive inequalities in football today. We need to have greater understanding of the differing realities of people and we need to (re)design sports programs with these realities in mind.

How has it impacted the work that you currently do?

Issues of equity and equality, and (re)designing accessible and inclusive programs are central to my current work at the FC Barcelona Foundation. I work in the International Programs team and we run sports-based programs that promote social inclusion, prevent youth violence, and improve access to education among children and youth in the most vulnerable communities worldwide.

We do not focus on improving football ability; instead, we focus on inclusive and empowering participation, fun, and improving life skills and transmitting positive values. We design and deliver methodologies and programs for young people who face systemic exclusion in society, for example refugee and migrant children and youth, children with disabilities or illness, or children and youth who are out of school and/or exposed to gangs, drugs and crime.

What does football mean to you?

Football to me means: community, energy, and activism. It gets in your blood and connects you with phenomenally motivated and inspirational people from all over the world.

(Photo courtesy of Lucy Mills)


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