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ARGENTINA: Football Referee School Offers Way Out of Poverty

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Jun 9 2010 (IPS) - A new school to train football referees to work amateur-level tournaments in Argentina aims at providing skills and a legitimate source of income for young people from poor homes.

“The idea is to start with 90 students, and 20 percent should be female,” Joaquín Ignacio Tomé, executive director of the association “Para que no te quedes afuera” (Don’t Be Left Out), which will begin student registration in July, amidst football World Cup fever.

Argentina is considered a top contender at the FIFA international football championship, Jun. 11-Jul. 11 in South Africa.

The referee training programme will operate in the low-income neighbourhood of La Boca, in southern Buenos Aires, near the home stadium of the popular Boca Juniors football club, and some of the city’s tourist sites, like the colourful Caminito street and the old port.

Although thousands of tourists from around the world visit the neighbourhood, La Boca remains one of the city’s poorest areas. More than half its 10,000 youths ages 14 to 29 are unemployed, according to government figures.

That is much higher than the national unemployment rate. With a population of 40.2 million, Argentina has 6.4 million in the 15-24 age group. Of those young people, 2.7 million come from low-income households, and 756,000 neither work nor study.

Meanwhile, in La Boca, “43 percent of unemployed young people neither study nor have income; that is, they are young men and women who lack any means or incentives for their labour development,” project coordinator Roberto Pazo told IPS.

According to Pazo, the job of referee is in high demand because of the thousands of amateur tournaments held in Buenos Aires and surrounding areas. They pay for referees is about 25 dollars per match. Working tournaments like these is how the professional football referees get their start.

Women have begun to join the ranks of referees in recent years — and not without controversy. Currently there are just three women who are professional referees for men’s first division football.

Referees are also needed for the thousands of women’s football tournaments.

“Young football referees. An attractive option for social inclusion and the promotion of ’employability’ among youths in at-risk situations” was one of the 530 Latin American projects selected this year for financing under a Latin American initiative.

The selection was made at the 2010 Latin American and Caribbean Development Marketplace, held in Bogotá in April. The annual event is organised by the World Bank in association with the Inter-American Development Bank, Organisation of American States and other entities.

At the fair in the Colombian capital, the focus was on projects that involve young adults in opportunities for jobs and income. The winning proposals will receive funding to get their projects up and running.

“Initially we’ll receive 15,000 dollars, and that will allow us to operate for one year. After that, we’ll apply for more funds, and if we don’t win again we’ll look for private financing in order to continue,” said Tomé.

“Para que no te quedes afuera” has existed since 1997 as an entity dedicated to defending young people’s rights and promoting youth development through a variety activities aimed at job training and employment.

The association’s idea to create the football referee school includes bringing in instructors from Argentina’s National School of Referees to ensure that the youths receive a proper education in sports theory and ethics, as well as physical training. All free of cost.

To register for the course requires prior completion of secondary school, but the school’s promoters say that if someone is interested and hasn’t done so, support will be provided to help that student complete that degree.

He remarked that the lack of jobs and opportunities in La Boca neighbourhood often generates “a vicious circle of drugs, violence and crime,” from which it can be difficult to escape. That is why all the projects focus on job training and generating sources of income.

“The school will train professional referees for the numerous amateur football matches in the region, attracting at-risk youths and providing them with the chance to develop a skill,” Pazo said.

Classes include football regulations, physical training, sportsmanship, as well as sociology and sports psychology.

Once the course is completed, the school hopes to arrange paid professional practice for the new referees and to create a professional referee agency that serves as a nexus between the institution and the football tournaments.

“In Argentina, football is a passion among all social classes, and with so many tournaments the supply of referees does not meet the demand,” said Pazo, adding that this plan can be adapted for other sports.

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