Learn how clubs competing in the UEFA Europe League did their bit to help communities cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Article top media content
From Basel to Wolverhampton Wanderers, all clubs remaining in the UEFA Europa League launched numerous initiatives to support fans and communities during football’s long period of inactivity.
Activities included raising funds to purchase life-saving medical equipment, delivering food to the elderly and vulnerable or using the sport's enormous reach to deliver vital health messages.
"Football really can be an important vehicle for good," says UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin. "These examples demonstrate that."
FC Basel 1893
Basel launched a solidarity campaign #ZämmestooGegenCorona (#StandTogetherAgainstCorona) in April under the patronage of club legend Karli Odermatt. For several weeks, countless current and former FCB players as well as other club personnel came forward to auction unique items on zämmestoo.fcb.ch. Together with individual donations, these auctions raised almost CHF 70,000. The total was split between three charities, two with a local remit and one with a Swiss/international scope.
FCB CEO Roland Heri said: "The circle has come full circle: Karli Odermatt opened this unique initiative at the beginning of April and weeks later has closed it again by meeting with the three selected institutions. In between, there has been a huge commitment from a wide variety of people from the large FCB family who have made a great solidarity effort to help those who are currently having an even harder time than usual. The result is a wonderful and successful project that has been able to put a smile on our faces every day during these difficult times."
One of the club's standout initiatives, along with many other contributions to the community, was to offer the use of its stadium to the city of Copenhagen for schools and other learning institutions. This allowed them to return to teaching while maintaining social distancing protocol.
"We know that this is a big challenge for many schools and institutions in Copenhagen, and we would like to contribute with a possible solution," said the club's chief operating officer Katja Moesgaard.
The head of the city's child and youth administration, Jesper Christensen, added: "We must be creative and I am happy to see that our large cultural companies, housing associations and sports institutions are willing to step in."
In addition to running a delivery service for club members unable to leave their homes during the COVID-19 lockdown, Frankfurt also launched an innovative online initiative to help the city's restaurants, small businesses and cultural and social institutions cope with the sudden financial hit.
Acting as an intermediary, the club invited Frankfurters to pay upfront the average monthly amount they would usually spend at their favourite destination. In return, the selected business provided a voucher allowing the customer to redeem their credit as soon as lockdown eased. An official club statement said: "During the coronavirus crisis and the societal challenges we are all currently facing, solidarity, fighting spirit and perseverance take on an even more important role in supporting the region, its people, local businesses and institutions."
The club's foundation took a number of initiatives to support the city’s frontline response. This included setting up a team of doctors to provide free medical support and information to the local community through an online consultation service.
The club itself donated to the Getafe University Hospital to help purchase personal protective equipment, such as waterproof gowns, surgical masks, shoe covers, gloves and hats. The club's foundation also donated medical supplies to organisations providing support for 350 adults and children with mental health illnesses, considered vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.
General manager Clemente Villaverde: "We continue to work on these initiatives, which were launched as a result of this situation. What we now have to do is keep them going and recognise their significance, both to us as a club and the residents of Getafe." Find out more here.
FC Internazionale Milano
After donating one million masks to the National Civil Protection agency, Inter launched #TogetherAsATeam, a crowdfunding campaign in aid of vaccine research at the department of biomedical and clinical sciences at Milan's Luigi Sacco Hospital.
The online initiative raised €658,000 thanks to contributions from more than 3,000 fans, together with first-team players, coaching staff, club employees and the PUPI Foundation – the Argentinian non-profit organisation set up by former Inter captain Javier Zanetti and his wife Paula to help vulnerable children.
"Reaching our fans with personalised messages from players, coaches and staff to encourage donations and bring the community together behind the cause made a huge difference," said Inter CEO Alessandro Antonello.
The funds also helped to pay for:
• A task force of doctors, nurses, volunteer midwives and experts to send to the most critical hospitals in the Lombardy region
• Intensive care equipment for hospitals, including ventilators, flow meters, respirators, disinfectants for large areas, and ambulances
• Health products, baby care products, masks and disinfectant gels to foster homes and institutions for minors
Soon after the first outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan, Inter sent 300,000 face masks to hospitals in the Chinese city.
Inter Campus, which supports football development in 30 of the world's poorest communities, ran video chats to connect coaches and children across the world. To help break the boredom of lockdown, videos were distributed showing how to play indoor games using paper for footballs and bottles for cones.
"The pandemic has hit people all over the world with great force. The great commitment of all healthcare workers has been essential to allow us now to look to the future. With this initiative we want to thank them and celebrate their work and at the same time send a message of unity and solidarity between nations," said Inter president Steven Zhang.
The Turkish club contributed hugely to the awareness messages sent out to the public to ensure transmission of the virus was kept to a minimum. Several videos were posted with players sending messages to fans and club channels sent support to key workers.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Together with Germany's three other original UEFA Champions League participants for 2019/20 (Borussia Dortmund, FC Bayern München, RB Leipzig), Leverkusen established a solidarity fund worth up to €20m to help clubs in both the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga who are struggling to cope with the economic consequences of football’s shutdown.
To establish the fund, the four clubs have waived their share of the undistributed national media revenue from the German Football League (DFL) for the 2020/21 season (approximately €12.5m). In addition, they agreed to allocate €7.5m of their own resources. “This campaign underlines that solidarity in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga is not lip service,” said Christian Seifert, the DFL chief executive.
In addition, the club supported various local and regional activities, and donated almost €50,000 to projects in and around Leverkusen.
The Austrian club's #GemeinsamgegenCorona (#togetheragainstcorona) initiative got staff and players involved in a communal response. In March, LASK made a public commitment to not furlough staff. During this time, the club employees in question were assisting the Austrian Red Cross during their usual work hours while still receiving their salaries from LASK.
They helped run the domestic coronavirus hotline, where they coordinated testing for potentially infected people. In addition, the players recorded short video clips from their homes (or during their military service) encouraging fans to stay home and safe during the official lockdown period in Austria.
LASK CEO Andreas Protil said: "Since we were at the centre of the domestic news coverage right from the start of this crisis due to our UEFA Europa League game against Manchester United, we wanted to take the opportunity to serve as a role model in our community. Therefore, we decided to go without public funding and made our staff available to aid organisations."
Manchester United FC
United teamed up with local rivals Manchester City FC to donate £100,000 to food banks in the region. The club's foundation was very active, delivering food to local charities, offering stay-at-home entertainment for younger fans and donating £300,000 to partner schools, among many other initiatives.
Gifts for health service staff, key workers and contact with elderly fans were other steps taken while Old Trafford was made available for a mobile testing unit and as a back-up for blood donations. There were 60,000 meals prepared for health service workers and fans could also nominate frontline heroes for recognition and celebration.
Club owner Evangelos Marinakis teamed up with shipper Angeliki Frangou and ION SA to fund 12 intensive care beds at the General State Hospital in Nikaia, a suburb of Athens. More than €1.5m was laid out on the ICU beds and their supplementary equipment including fixed high-tech respirators, special monitors, pumps and defibrillators.
In addition, the Tzanio hospital received protective masks and medical equipment while Marinakis also put in €100,000 in the special professional football telethon that was held to raise money in response to the crisis. Olympiacos head of international relations Kostas Vernikos said: “We wanted to show our social responsibility, doing the best we can against the coronavirus pandemic. With offers of solidarity and love for all our fellow human beings, Olympiacos will always be there for those in need.”
The Rangers Charity Foundation has been working in various ways to support its local community and beyond. Via its #AFoundationFromHome campaign, supporters have been able to access a range of resources for people of all ages. The foundation has also worked hard to offer a series of monetary and physical donations to external groups during these difficult times.
Foundation director Connal Cochrane said: “When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and the country went into lockdown, we were immediately committed to supporting our local community and beyond through a range of projects – all spearheaded by our #AFoundationFromHome initiative.
“From creating educational worksheets for children with free postal delivery, to developing special videos for our Football Memory participants living with dementia, #AFoundationFromHome took a range of our core community projects and adapted them in a way which enabled people to access support from isolation.
“Other revised projects included weekly fitness videos for adults and football skills challenges for children living with autism and visual impairments. Elsewhere, we worked with our long term partner UNICEF and our donation of £15,000 earlier in the year has been used for their COVID-19 appeal to support children across the globe.
"More locally, thanks to the generosity of our fans we were able to donate a range of treats to patients at two Glasgow hospitals who were unable to receive visits from family and friends. We also responded to hundreds of fans who got in touch directly for support.
“Ultimately, everyone at the foundation wants our supporters, charity partners and all the children and adults we work with across the community to remain safe and well. As the charitable arm of Rangers Football Club, we are acutely aware of our responsibility on behalf of the Rangers family and we hope that, through our work during COVID-19, our communities know more than ever that we’ll always be there.” Find out more here.
Based in the capital city of one of the countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 virus, Roma played a frontline role in helping its fans cope with the unprecedented crisis.
When the lockdown left many elderly people isolated and vulnerable, the club’s foundation Roma Cares started delivering packages to every season ticket holder over the age of 75. Eliseo Lorenzetti was the eldest recipient. In addition to the food and medical package, star striker Edin Džeko gave a signed shirt to the 96-year-old fan, who was born four years before Roma were founded.
The club used its own call centre to put elderly fans and people with disabilities in touch with local suppliers to source food, medical supplies or other critical needs.
Roma also raised more than €500,000 to provide medical equipment for local hospitals. The funds helped purchase eight pulmonary ventilators and eight fully-equipped intensive care beds, as well as 70,000 protective masks, 11,000 bottles of sanitising gel and 32,000 pairs of protective gloves distributed to hospitals, churches, care homes, shelters and key workers based in Rome.
Other community initiatives:
• To aid home-schooling, club mascot Romolo delivered 55 tablets to families selected by local children’s charity Forum del Terzo Settore
• Roma launched HEROES, a social media campaign telling the stories of 72 doctors, nurses and medical professionals working to contain COVID-19 around the world
• 5,000 free tickets available for medical workers to attend Roma’s first home match with supporters
• Special discount introduced for tickets sold to medical workers during the 2020/21 season.
Through its Take Care of Me initiative, Sevilla called vulnerable members of the local community, particularly the elderly, to raise awareness of the need to stay at home to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Sevilla’s foundation also monitored the health of the club’s elderly and vulnerable fans. “We will continue to call and support our elders; it is a moral obligation because without their effort and contribution over the years, we would not be what we are today,” said Jesús Gómez, Sevilla’s director of communication.
The foundation also contributed to food banks set up by local charities to ensure the city’s poorest communities did not go hungry during the lockdown.
Players also took initiatives of their own to keep in touch with club supporters. When a local fan of the Andalusian club was admitted to the Virgen Macarena Hospital after showing COVID-19 symptoms, he received a surprise call from Sevilla's Franco ‘Mudo’ Vázquez wishing him a speedy recovery.
Midfielder Antonio Zarzana followed in his team-mate’s footsteps, posting a message of solidarity to all Sevilla fans on his Instagram account: "Do not go to bed without eating, don’t hesitate in writing to me. Whatever I have I will give to those who need it, you only have to write to me by private message."
Locked down in his hometown of Rosario, Sevilla’s Argentinian midfielder Éver Banega and his family worked with a local football team to deliver food and warm clothes to people in need.
FC Shakhtar Donetsk
Together with the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, Shakhtar Donetsk provided 20,000 COVID-19 test kits for medical institutions in the Ukrainian region of Kharkiv. The kits allow laboratories to identify potential coronavirus infections in just 15 minutes and are critical in helping public health authorities identify and contain outbreaks. “I am happy that the whole team and I can now do a good thing for my home city,” said Shakhtar's Valeriy Bondar.
In April, Shakhtar players Andriy Pyatov and Sergii Kryvtsov appeared in a series of 12 educational videos teaching schoolchildren exercises to perform at home during the country’s lockdown. The series, called Digital PE Classes for Schoolchildren, was shared through the club’s channels.
Wolfsburg’s #wirhelfen (we help) campaign provided much needed support to the club’s elderly members and season ticket holders. Players from the men’s and women’s first teams, including Robin Knoche, Felix Klaus, Svenja Huth and Sara Doorsoun, personally called 75 fans. Other staff ran errands, went shopping or picked up prescriptions and medication. “Everyone was delighted that I called them. They told me about their everyday lives, how they’re doing and whether they’re getting support. As a team we really hope everyone stays healthy and is doing well,” said Knoche.
To help children and parents fight off boredom during the lockdown, players also personally delivered gift bags to the 3,500 members of Wolfsburg’s fan club. “It was a great thing to do,” said Kevin Mbabu. “It was a lot fun surprising the kids and to see the happiness on their faces. It was a nice change from everyday life for them and for us.”
Wolfsburg staff also raised €30,000 through voluntary donations and, early on in the crisis, the club provided 100,000 much-needed surgical masks to the city’s frontline medical and social institutions. “The wearing of masks is an important step in the fight against the virus, and we’re glad that we can contribute to that in this way,” said Wolfsburg’s managing director Michael Meeske.
Wolverhampton Wanderers FC
A key focus for Wolves was the vulnerable and elderly members of their community with club legends getting in touch, prescription and grocery collections, online support and various other aid schemes and initiatives.
Masks and other protective equipment was donated to social care workers and the city of Wolverhampton. Fundraising ideas such as an Ebay auction and profits from special Wolves masks funnelled money into local hospital and health services, while the squad and staff also contributed large sums.
Learning and entertainment resources were provided for young fans, food was donated charities and the club also hosted a video memorial service to remember lost loved ones.