Footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic has donated $50,000 to help the Swedish learning difficulties team compete at the INAS World Football Championships in Brazil. The team had only wanted a signed shirt, but in the end got far more than they had hoped for.
Ibrahimovic, 32, who is a national hero in Sweden, missed out on playing in this summer’s World Cup in Brazil as his country failed to qualify. However, he made sure that Sweden would be represented at a global event in 2014 by donating the cash.
“Football should be played by anyone, regardless of gender, disability or not,” said the Paris Saint-Germain forward.
“When [the Swedish national side] missed the World Cup, I was deeply disappointed. So when I heard about ‘the unknown team’ I said to myself that I wanted to do everything in my power to help them to experience a World Cup."
“There was nothing to think about. It was a given,” he added.
According to Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the assistant coach of the Swedish learning difficulties national team, Stefan Jonsson, got in touch with Ibrahimovic to see if he would be willing to send them a signed shirt, which they could auction off to raise funds.
However, upon hearing the request Ibrahimovic said to Jonsson: “What are you going to do with a shirt?” “When I said we needed $50,000, he asked for the account number and deposited it,” Jonsson said.
Ibrahimovic then told Paralympic website handikappidrott.se that he wanted to do everything he could to help the team reach the tournament when he heard their story.
The INAS World Football Championships takes place every four years and is for participants who have intellectual difficulties. It usually takes place in the same country that hosted the World Cup in that year. Saudi Arabia has won the last two editions of the tournament.
This is not the first time that Ibrahimovic has reached out to help footballers in his home country. In 2007 he helped pay for a 5-a-side football pitch in the Rosengard district of Malmo where he grew up.
The money will be all but a drop in the ocean, though, for Ibrahimovic, whose parents emigrated to Sweden from the former Yugoslavia. According to Forbes, Ibrahimovic is the 12th-highest paid sportsman in the world, earning around $40 million a year in salary and endorsements.