Sting gets behind effort to send soccer balls to kids in war-torn countries

(Courtesy Of Bobby Sager And Sting.)
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By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 2, 2009

NEW YORK -- Sting is sitting in the lotus position on a plush white couch in his bright Central Park West apartment, talking about how a soccer ball might change a poor child's life.

"Instant, instant joy!" says the singer and activist.

And so he has co-founded a nonprofit group that is sending soccer balls to children in some of the most troubled places on Earth. Indestructible soccer balls.

"These kids have got nothing," Sting notes as a uniformed servant hovers in his doorway with a silver tray. Sting says that very poor children sometimes fashion their own soccer balls out of crumpled plastic bags tied together with twine.

The kids live in rough places -- Rwanda, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories. They might end up kicking a soccer ball around garbage and glass. That's where the indestructible part comes in.

Sting funded research and development to create a strong, long-lasting ball that had the "same weight and consistency and feel" as a soccer ball. It took a year. But here it is, about $8 to produce, to be replicated by the thousands, bright yellow and printed with the words: "HOPE Is a Game-Changer"

"Most soccer balls are inflated, they're plastic, or traditionally leather, but they break, they get deflated, and they get punctured, and it's useless," Sting says. This ball is different. "It's made of foam, it's solid."

"It kicks like a soccer ball," he adds. "I've kicked it, I've headed it, but I haven't scored a goal with it yet."

Sting played soccer as a child in northern England, and later with his own children, and he still roots for Newcastle United.

His partner in the project is traveling philanthropist Bobby Sager, who befriended Sting at a hotel bar on the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.

Sager assembled a book of photographs he took of refugee and war-impacted children, and is putting the proceeds toward the indestructible balls.

The pop star, who has supported various environmental causes, acknowledges that in the world's poorest places, children also need food and medicine.

But soccer balls matter, too, he said. The game can develop a sense of cooperation, leadership -- and fun.

"Play is important," he says. "As important as anything else, really."

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