FC Barcelona’s famous motto Més que un club expresses how their identity extends beyond being simply a soccer team. They are more than a club. They are a democratically run, shareholder-owned organization with a firmly Catalan identity in Castillian Spain. In some contexts, they’re far more than just Lionel Messi’s soccer team.
Mexico’s Santos Laguna’s motto could just as easily be Més que un club. Their actual motto is Ganar sirviendo es la único opción - Winning by serving is the only option. Their commitment to serving their community and the communities they visit sets them apart. In some ways they’re a soccer team with a charitable arm, in other ways they’re a charity that has a soccer team.
I recently spoke with Laura Irarragorri, President of Santos Laguna’s charitable arm Guerreros de Corazón. “We put serving others at the forefront of everything we do” she said, noting that Santos has been doing service and charity for a long time. “Guerreros de Corazón will celebrate its 12th anniversary on August 5th of this year.”
Earlier this month Santos wrapped up their ninth annual Copa Santos Peñoles. The tournament ran from April 26th through May 1 and a total of 288 teams participated, and with the help of Todo Vien, “a social marketing agency focused on the inclusion of persons with disabilities,“ 80 players with disabilities took part in the tournament.
This sort of thing would be about what some clubs might do in a year, but this wasn’t the only thing Santos did that week. Santos’ men’s first team had a match against Club América in Mexico City on that Saturday, yet they made time on their trip to partner with the United Way and with Team América, “a soccer team from the Adapted Football League for the Blind” according to a Santos press release from the event.
“These activities are fundamental in the formation of our players and staff as human beings,” Irarragorri said. “We believe that human development and sports are all related -- that if you nurture better human beings, you’ll have better players on the field.”
Santos’ exploits on the field are well documented. Six first division championships. Runners-up in two consecutive Concacaf Champions League tournaments. Their résumé is impeccable, comparable with the grandes in Mexican soccer. But their commitment to service and charity sets them apart.
Santos is very aware of its position not only within Mexico but as a global organization who can use its place in the world’s game to further its message of charity and service to others. “In 2015 we began to work in the community internationally, holding now more than 25 events in the United States with various associations such as United Way, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs,” Irarragorri said. “In the past we have joined forces with Concacaf and (some) MLS teams to carry the message further. Santos is a club which seeks to be a pioneer on many levels, and at the moment we hope that these actions will inspire other teams in Liga MX to take action in Mexico and in the USA, where as you know, the market for Mexican teams is getting bigger every year.”
I asked Irarragorri what charitable event meant the most to her personally, and she said that there really wasn’t one specific instance that she could choose. “I could go on for hours about what we do and have done. We have regular initiatives that we hold every year such as Guerretón, Guerreras al 110, an annual Christmas party for local kids, and many more.”
“We raise money for breast cancer, we collect plastic bottle caps which eventually we redeem for (money for) wheelchairs for people with disabilities, we offer tours and special visits for vulnerable groups.”
“In 2017,” she continued “we became the first Mexican team to form an alliance with a global non-profit when we joined forces with United Way.”
“Every tournament we let the players choose their team ambassador -- known as a Padrino or Madrina -- from a short list of persons with disabilities or limitations, and that ambassador is involved in all gameday and team activities in Torreón.”
As for upcoming initiatives, Irarragorri spoke of doing more cross-border initiatives. “We’re constantly looking to evolve and make as big of an impact as possible,” she said. “Earlier this year, we met with the people at MLS to learn more about their MLS Works program and walked away with a new knowledge of how things are done in the USA, and we’ll look to see how we can work with MLS teams in the future when it suits both sides during our trips to the USA.”
As selflessness is key to serving others, Irarragorri demurred when asked what fans in the United States could do to help with Santos’ initiatives. “We encourage our fans to take part in their own activities and serve others in their communities,” she said. “Our fans are part of us and we want them to share and transmit our values of winning by serving. We don’t just want them to do it because we say to do it, we want them to take their own action. And we have fans from all over the world who go out, who send us photos (of them doing charitable work).”
“When we travel, we announce through our social media networks how fans can participate, so if we’re in your city, keep an eye on our social networks for those details.”