For Roma President James Pallotta, the immediate priority is not about toppling Juventus in Serie A or hoping for an upset against Champions League holder Barcelona on Wednesday.
From his Boston base, when the American financier started to see images of the refugee crisis escalating in Europe he realized he had to harness the power of football to help. And not just at Roma.
“When you see a three-year old dead on the beach when he should have had his whole life ahead of him, if that doesn’t make you pause and think I don’t know what does,” Pallotta told The Associated Press.
With the campaign launch coming straight after the $2.4 billion-plus summer transfer window closed in Europe, “Football Cares” seems an antidote to criticism that football is an industry awash with cash that only lines the pockets of players and agents.
Roma gave an initial 575,000 euros ($651,665), including 250,000 euros from Pallotta. Putting rivalries aside, Inter Milan and Fiorentina are among the Italian clubs to join “Football Cares,” while the Los Angeles Galaxy has also signed up. The United Nations Refugee Agency, International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and the Red Cross will be the recipients of the donations.
“The amount of money being thrown around in the transfer market is fairly significant and I think most of the teams, ownership and players give a damn about what’s going on in the world,” Pallotta said in a telephone interview. “It’s not always easy to figure out how to solve issues … this is an opportunity to create a massive collaboration around fans and players.”
While football clubs have felt a duty to act, the sport’s embattled governing body, with $1.5 billion in cash reserves, has seemed silent as the crisis has deepened in Europe and calls have grown to find homes for the refugees.
FIFA, which did donate $200,000 to help Syrian refugees in Jordan in 2013, spent $27 million buying a hotel close to its Zurich headquarters last year. Asked three times throughout last week if it had considered giving over any rooms to refugees, FIFA did not respond to the AP’s e-mails.
“I don’t know what FIFA is going to do. They do have a fair amount of cash,” said Pallotta, while keen to avoid criticizing the governing body.
Pallotta is also treading carefully to ensure Roma’s initiative does not becaome entangled in the wider political debate around the growing numbers of migrants coming to Europe, particularly to escape the conflict in Syria.
“We really didn’t want to make this a political thing at all,” Pallotta said. “We look at it as a really humanitarian crisis. This is a short term situation where money is needed for housing, for food.”
Inevitably, the migrant crisis will drop off the front pages.
Pallotta does not want the energy behind “Football Cares” to fade, believing this should be the start of a formalized mechanism for football to respond with a unified approach to humanitarian situations where relief is required.
“When things slow down on this (crisis) as they tend to do … this could be the platform going forward when we want to engage our fans for something like the refugee crisis or another really important issue,” he said.