Football Unites has beaten off competition from Rio Ferdinand to scoop a top honour at a prestigious ceremony.
Football Unites clinched the Diversity award at the first ever SCORE4Africa Awards run by the Premier League-backed development agency AFFORD (African Foundation for Development).
FURD co-ordinator Howard Holmes and football development worker Desbon Bushiri travelled to the House of Lords to pick up the award at a glittering ceremony which was also supported by the government's Department for International Development.
Other award winners at the inaugural event included Arsene Wenger, Didier Drogba, Nwanko Kanu, Craig Bellamy and George Weah, who were all recognised for their contribution to African development.
Football Unites, Racism Divides was commended for its work to ensure that everyone who plays or watches football can do so without the fear of racial abuse and harassment. This includes work done in Sheffield with local communities of African origin, such as with young Somali footballers, as well as the recently-launched FIC project in the Democratic Republic of Congo to use football as a tool to overcome years of genocide and hatred. Desbon and Football Unites volunteer Sophina Hanif travelled to the country in September to continue the pioneering programme in shattered communities.
Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who sponsored the Diversity award, said:
"Football Unites, Racism Divides believes that football, as the world’s most popular game, can break down barriers and bring people from different backgrounds together to play, watch and enjoy the game.
"The Commission believes that sport contributes to community development by cementing social cohesion, providing employment, helping in education and skills training provision and providing inspiration and joy."
FURD’s co-ordinator Howard Holmes added:
“It was a tremendous honour to have the work of Football Unites recognised at such a prestigious event.
From our early days in helping to uncover the story of the first black professional, Arthur Wharton, who came from Ghana, through our enduring work in developing players and teams from African communities in Sheffield, and more recently the inspiring Football Between Communities project set up by coach Desbon Bushiri in DR Congo, FURD has consistently celebrated the huge contribution that African players have made to football worldwide.”
FURD are currently building contacts and partnerships with agencies in South Africa, with a view to developing joint initiatives in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup.
One planned project is a travelling History of African Footballers exhibition, together with the District Six Museum in Cape Town.