Football Cares: 'Sports eBay' with a cause

    Story highlights

    • AS Roma has launched Football Cares initiative
    • The club hopes it and other football teams can raise money to aid refugee charities

    (CNN)It could be the ultimate football auction site.

    Want to buy a signed Steven Gerrard LA Galaxy shirt? You got it. Memorabilia from the first Milan derby of season 2015/16? No problem. And the best part -- all the proceeds go to charity.
      Italian club AS Roma launched the eBay-like auction site last week as part of its "Football Cares" initiative. The ambitious program seeks to coordinate the global football community's response to the refugee crisis currently engulfing Europe.
      Eleven clubs in Italy and the U.S. have already given the project their backing with Roma keen for more to join.
      Shocking images of a Syrian toddler lying lifeless on a Turkish beach and of vulnerable families crossing the Mediterranean Sea on dangerously overcrowded vessels have dominated news bulletins across the continent and around the world in recent weeks.
      Those distressing pictures proved "the final straw" for Roma chairman and president Jim Pallotta.

      Calling in football's network

      "We looked at it and saw the crisis kind of accelerate and said 'we've got a network in effect of football fans and clubs around the world that are literally bigger than any other (network) that's out there,'" said the 57-year-old Pallotta.
      "I mean Twitter and Instagram have about 300 million users, Facebook just went over a billion users, there's two billion smartphones now in the world. But there's an even higher number of football fans," he said.
      Alongside the auction site, another online space has been set up by the club that allows people to donate to the Red Cross, UN Refugee Agency, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee.
      Roma donated to the tune of 575,000 Euros ($640,000) to get the fund up and running, including $280,000 from Pallotta himself.
      While keenly fought rivalries often prevent football fans coming together on or off the pitch, Pallotta is hopeful forward thinking clubs will see the bigger picture.
      "(Rivalry) is all great and that's part of the emotion and culture of football," he continued. "But at the same time there's no reason why for larger issues all of them can't come together and have networks of billions of people ... it's the largest network of people in the world at the end of the day."
      Clubs such as Fiorentina, Sampdoria, Bologna and Torino, as well as Italy's Serie A and Serie B leagues have been quick to throw their support behind the idea. Roma also took to the field this weekend with the "Football Cares" logo emblazoned on its jersey to promote the initiative.
      Further afield, the likes of Orlando City SC, Columbus Crew and Los Angeles Galaxy have donated player shirts for auction.
      According to Roma board member and former star of the women's U.S. national team, Mia Hamm, football's status as the world's most popular sport "can only help publicize" the plight of vulnerable refugees.
      Hamm said she would be willing to donate some of her old jerseys if it would aid the cause, but she was also keen to stress that other gestures made by clubs across the continent away from donating money have helped in myriad positive ways.
      "Offering free tickets to people who have come so far and suffered so much can also make a real difference to people's lives," she said. "Things like that just show the positive effect soccer can have.

      Refugees Welcome

      It's not just Roma, who play European champions Barcelona in their opening Champions League group stage game Wednesday, that has taken action over the refugee crisis.
      Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain have all committed to donating $1.1 million to refugee initiatives. Elsewhere, charity matches have been organized, refugees have been given free tickets to games and supporters have displayed banners declaring "Refugees Welcome."
      The European Club Association has also called on the 80 clubs participating in the first two match days of the Champions League and the Europa League to donate one euro ($1.1) for each ticket sold for the games played between September 15-17 and September 29-October 1.
      The response of the Europe's governments and political institutions, however, has been more mixed.
      Germany and Sweden have been among the most welcoming to refugees arriving on the continent, with Germany confirming it expects to take in 800,000 this year. Others like Hungary and Slovakia have been less enthusiastic.
      Pallotta was reluctant to dwell on the political response to the crisis, preferring instead to focus on the aims of "Football Cares."
      "I think for us we're not looking at it as a political issue right now," said Pallotta. "We're looking at it as a humanitarian crisis.
      "In the short run the needs are housing, food, clothing, items like that. The political side of it, the governments are going to do what they've got to do and hopefully figure it out," he added.
      American-born Palotta was keener to stress the potential for "Football Cares" should it prove a success as well as relaying the positive feedback Roma has already received.
      "It's been nice that Dortmund and Bayern and even Real have reached out to us and said 'this is great' and they would have loved to have supported us if they hadn't done what they had already done which was significant," he said.
      "But when the dust settles I think we'll look at it and get a lot of input from the people who are participating and the people who are doing stuff on their own.
      "(Then) we'll see if there is something that we can do combined down the road and maybe have an effect on things."
        You can donate to Football Cares here or bid on the items of memorabilia donated to the project here