Munich, Germany

Buntkicktgut! Integration Through Sports


November 18, 2008

Sport breaks through language and cultural barriers

They may not yet share a common language. They come from different cultures and often, as new immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers have had difficult and extremely varied life experiences: but when the whistle blows and the game kicks off, none of this matters.

“Football is the only thing they knew,” says Buntkicktgut co-initiator and project manager, Rudiger Heid. “Precisely because where silence reigns, football is a medium where understanding is possible.”

“Buntkicktgut” (which translates loosely as “colourful football,” or fancy footwork) is the name of the intercultural street football league in Munich. It was founded in 1996 by two social workers at a refugee home, after they began to use street football (the most popular activity among the boys at the home) as a means for identification and integration. Today, the program includes over 150 teams with approximately 1,500 players. The players are a mix of refugees and disadvantaged youth all from a variety ethnic backgrounds. The participants get involved in the program through their housing estates, daycare centres, on the suggestion of school social workers or from just hearing about it on the street. The participants range from 8-21 years and include both males and female players. The game year is divided into a summer and winter season and games are held up to five times a week, as well as on weekend, at venues throughout the city. Two cup events are held annually as well.

One the main differences between Buntkickgut and other sports events, is the continuity of the league and the frequency with which they regularly bring together the various teams. The longevity of league, with players staying on as they move from age group to age group is another key element of what makes it successful. The league creates ties between the youth and the staff and helps socialize the players with regard to the value system of the league. When new teams join, seasoned participants help them to learn the rules. The teams are almost always made up of players from a cross-section of cultural communities.

Street soccer in contrast to club football is also associated with autonomy, self organization and self determination by the youth. The league encourages responsibility by having teams register on their own and organize themselves. To qualify for the league, a team must have six players and at least one coach. The kids are also responsible for organising their uniforms (shirts), coming up with a team name and building community support for their games. The teams also commit to playing year round and attending all scheduled games.

One of the primary goals of the project is the prevention of violence. The project concentrates heavily on the peaceful resolution of conflict within an intercultural context (i.e. racist prejudices and intercultural misunderstanding). The participants are taught peaceful strategies for conflict resolution, democratic negotiation and the idea of individual and group participation.

To reinforce these ideas, players can join the League Council. The League Council is democratically made up of youth representatives from individual teams. The league council gets involved when red cards are given to players for physical or verbal incidents, or if players do not fulfill their duties (cleaning up post game) or if changes are made to the team during the season. The attractiveness of the league is so strong that any sanctions are taken very seriously by the players.


The league offers the players recognition and respect and it strengthens their self confidence. The relationship to the staff members is close and friendly. The benefits extend to the audience as well, since game day usually results in a “mixed” crowd that wouldn’t normally meet or speak mingling and talking and cheering for their team.

In 2000, the project received recognition from the City of Munich and was then recognized in 2002 by German President Johannes Rau when it won first prize for successful integration projects. The success of Buntkicktgut has led to the idea travelling beyond Germany. For instance, similar projects have been launched in both Switzerland and Austria and are now also being considered for launch by other cities around Europe. In 2006 Buntkicktgut became a truly global initiative when they hosted the International Streetfootball League in Munich. Over 56 teams from around the world came to participate in the event. There were teams from India, Pakistan, the USA, Poland, Brazil, the UK, China, Cameroon and many others. The success of the event led to the involvement of the marketing team from the World Cup to make sure the next tournament is even bigger and better.

For a selection of library resources related to this Good Idea, see sidebar at right.

Making it Work for You:

  • Team sports can be the ideal medium for bringing together diverse groups from all ages - find out what programs are available in your schools or community. Is there a way that they could become more accessible to diverse communities?
  • It's not just about the players! Team sports also bring viewers together - ask whether local teams can play in neutral spaces that encourage people from different neighborhoods to come together to mingle and watch. Build bridges within and between neighborhoods.
  • Celebrate success! Sports teams and other winning initiatives that tell a good story and build community values are good candidates for local sponsorship and funding.