ITALIAN Serie A side AS Roma is leading the social awareness of missing children around the globe.

Roma will discuss the initiative with other European clubs about raising awareness of missing children after a successful social media campaign.

The Italian club showed videos of missing children when signing players over the past two transfer windows, and six children featured have been found.

Roma are seeking the support of other clubs for International Missing Children’s Day on 25 May.

“I think it will catch on with other clubs,” said Roma’s Chris Smalling.

“I thought it was a great initiative, and to be honest, given how popular and how much impact it has had, I’m surprised it’s not happened previously.

“But full credit to Roma, to be the ones to really start something.”

The Serie A club also united with 12 charities and organisations around the world to show the videos, which were modified to reflect the player they signed.

By recruiting a player from a particular country, there is a connection with a specific audience with an immediate impact.

When announcing a new signing on their social media channels, clubs instantly have a potentially viral moment, which can be taken advantage of to send a message.

Three of the children found were from London with two in Kenya and another from Belgium. In fact, one of the Kenyan children found was featured in Smalling’s transfer video after he signed on loan from Manchester United.

The defender added: “It was a really powerful moment for me, and an amazing thing for the family.

“Being a father now, not knowing where your child is, is one of toughest things to have to deal with in life and I wouldn’t want to wish that on anybody.”

Roma’s chief strategy officer Paul Rogers said the initial campaign – which was inspired by the video for Soul Asylum’s 1990s hit Runaway Train – had support from fans all over Europe.

Rogers believes help from other clubs could find even more missing children.

He told BBC Sport: “What Roma can do on its own is nowhere near what other clubs could do if we all got together.

“We had built up quite a sizable social media presence and going into the summer transfer window, we thought we had an opportunity to do something more meaningful,” he had earlier opined.

“Football on social media can be quite toxic at times, and we thought we could do something that is the antithesis of that and could be embraced by all sorts of fans.”

“We’re looking at a campaign on 25 May which is International Missing Children’s Day, where we try and unite the football world behind the same campaign and not just through transfers.

“I don’t expect we will have any kick-back when we approach other clubs and ask if they will join the campaign. This isn’t around transfers or Roma, it’s about different children around the world who are missing and can football clubs and the power of social media do something to bring them home.”

The reaction from supporters all over the world was overwhelmingly positive, as the Italian club featured 109 cases in 72 different videos across 12 different countries.

Rogers says it was “nerve-wracking” when he first met the US-based National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children to tell them about how Roma could potentially help.

But after producing a mock-up video using old missing children cases and pointing out Roma’s 16 million social media followers, they were “blown way” by his idea.

“One of the things they said which struck me was, ‘most brands try to distance themselves from something like this because missing children is a very sensitive subject and maybe you don’t want to be associated with it’,” Rogers said.

“We said we wanted to help 100%. We felt that even if no children were found, we could still raise awareness of the cases, the issue of missing children and the organisations doing that work.”

In the UK, Roma partnered with the charity Missing People, who say 86,000 children go missing every year.

Chief executive Jo Youle said Roma’s involvement had made a “massive difference” to their campaign.

Youle says the reasons range from problems at home or school, to mental illness and even sexual exploitation.

“The vast majority of kids are found in the first 24-28 hours, and only 1% are still missing a year later,” she added.

“For families, just to know that people care makes a difference but it also helps find children,” she said.

“A football club brings a platform of millions of fans who follow them closely and listen to what they say.

“We would love other clubs to get involved in time to appeal for missing children.”

That sentiment was echoed by Peter Boxell, who son has been missing for 32 years and was featured in Roma’s campaign.

He reluctantly admitted that Lee may not be found alive but says he “derives strength” from helping others find their missing children and believes clubs could be a great source of help.

“I was absolutely delighted when I found out six children had been found,” he said.

“Even if one child had been found it’s so worthwhile doing. I just hope other clubs follow suit and do the same thing.”

Sporting clubs around the world do many great things for social awareness.

AS Roma is to be applauded for taking the initiative in dealing with such a sensitive and difficult topic. The anguish felt by families not to know the whereabouts of their most cherished loved ones is incredibly distressing, and often unabating.

The psychological damage, close to irreparable.

Ludo Aequitas – Equality Through Sport – welcomes your views

 

Image via The Drum

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