Sport as a vehicle is highly significant for charity work

Interview with Robert Schmuki Many grant giving organizations do not promote sports. Meaning recreational sports in the sense of a football club. This is written in many regulations. Sport, on the other hand, is promoted as a vehicle. For example in outreach with disabled people, for inclusion, or for people with depression.

How important is charity work or philanthropy for organizations in the field of leisure and sports in Switzerland?

Philanthropy e context of recreation and sports should be understood as community service. Recreation and sports, however, are difficult to locate in the nonprofit sector. There is the classic sports club. Which is formed to practice a particular sport; football, basketball, table tennis, etc.. It is about championships and performance. Competition and charity work are a bad fit. However, there is that part in the field of leisure and sports that is highly significant for charity work. There, sport is seen as a vehicle to achieve something other than performance. And that’s always about the way you do something. Scouting organizations like Pfadi, CEVJ du Jubla are all about movement in the forest. Just like orienteering. It’s the same setting; forest and movement. On the one hand, performance-oriented and exclusive, and on the other, the Scout movement, social and extremely inclusive. The form is what matters, not the sport in and of itself.

Who are the most important players in recreational and sports activities?

Here, of course, one would immediately mention the sports club. However, in the case of nonprofit, philanthropic work using sports as a vehicle, it is organizations in the social sector. Very well known are the Swiss organizations for the disabled, which organize sports events to achieve the inclusion of people with a mental or physical disability. But Pro Senectute or youth centers also hold sports events. They counteract loneliness, prevent addictive behavior and keep people healthy. Where sports have a charitable goal, other providers do. I think that’s a pity. It is a pity that the big sports federations like for example the Schweizerische Fussballverband (SFV) hardly looks after precisely this area. SFV describes itself as incredibly social, but it does little about it. At the same time, soccer would have highly integrating components.

In Germany there is a project called Kicking Girls. It is the largest movement project for girls with a migration background. For football is accepted by the fathers of the girls. If the daughter scores a goal at a tournament, the father applauds cautiously at the first goal, is enthusiastic at the second, and pays everyone a round at the third. This shows that this much-abused sport, with its terrible commercial excesses but great social acceptance, also brings philanthropic opportunities in many ways.

How well does philanthropy in supporting recreation and sports projects?

The promoting philanthropy does not support sports clubs. It becomes very important when sport is embedded in another social goal, for example equal opportunities, prevention or integration. Exercise alone is not enough. It’s always about a social perspective. Former Federal Councillor Adolf Ogi once said the following with regard to the learning of soft skills: “Where, if not in the sports club, can you take on responsibility in today’s reality and also fail once in a while without it having massive consequences? The Scout movement is a good example for that. I hardly ever see young people coming out of a system so strengthened and who have also learned to take responsibility as they do, as from the Scouts. This is a great and important achievement. I also know many politicians who have frequented the scouts. If I were asked which sport we should really support, I would say, based on my many years of work experience, that we should support the Pfadi (scouts). They have a super system. The core aspect is the experience of self-efficacy, and that’s what sport simply brings across in so many good ways – that’s what makes sport so valuable.

And what are the biggest challenges in promoting recreation and sports initiatives?

Making it clear that a nonprofit sports project is not about sports is already the first big challenge. Just for example in municipalities, you are often referred to the school and sports department, and there you’re in the wrong place. Rather, talk to the social, cultural or health departments. The term sports has a very strong connotation of “weekend sports – who won.”

What do you personally donate to and what is your motivation?

I have always been attracted to exactly THAT, which enables opportunity and justice. Donations for women’s shelters or for Radio Lora in Zurich. Projects that I feel, that they open doors. Organizations that have found a good way to give people a chance, who otherwise would not have one. Something in gender or migration issues.


Robert Schmuki

Robert Schmuki grew up in Zurich-Schwamendingen. In 1995 he graduated from the ETH Zurich as an architect and urban planner. His professional focus as an independent architect was on urban and neighborhood development. As a former active football and basketball player, Robert Schmuki brought together recreational and professional experience and, starting in 2001, built up the grant giving organization Midnight Projekte Schweiz. It implemented children and youth programs. In 2010, it was transferred to the successor organization founded by Robert Schmuki, the IdéeSport Foundation in Bern. The foundation is one of the largest providers of open child and youth work in Switzerland. Currently, Robert Schmuki works at the Center for Philanthropy Studies at the University of Basel, in research and continuing education of nonprofit work.