Radja Nainggolan is the son of a Belgian mother and Indonesian father. While growing up in one of the more disadvantaged neighbourhood of Antwerp, he was able to hone his football skills to become a professional player. He currently plays for Italian side AS Roma.
Nainggolan became an ambassador of the sports and social cohesion project City Pirates Antwerp in 2016. City Pirates is an Antwerp football team active in various neighborhoods of the city. Regardless of age, ability, gender, race, religious conviction or background, the players form a close community.
City Pirates is not just about football: the club wants to draw attention to its social role in helping young people feel at home in the city and contribute to Antwerp society.
Nainggolan regularly makes surprise visits to the youth training grounds, bringing along other players of the Belgian national team who grew up in Antwerp such as Mousa Dembélé, so as to give more exposure to the project. City Pirates now has over 1,000 youth members, a large share of whom have a migration background, and the club works toward social integration through education, closely involving parents and linking up with social services.
Three social workers involved with the City Pirates come into contact with a large number of young people who often grow up in relative poverty. When problems arise among the young players (late payment of membership fees, worn-out clothing, behavioral issues, bad grades at school) the social workers proactively go on home and/or school visits. The children can also do their schoolwork at the club, with support being provided in collaboration with the schools the young players attend. Parents and some of the older club members are offered support to find jobs through partnerships with employment agencies.
The relationship of trust built between players, parents and the club, make it easy for certain matters to be dicussed. If necessary, families are referred to other local youth welfare organizations that are part of the City Pirates’ network. The club then makes a point of accompanying the family to seek out positive incentives for the young players.