LONDON (Reuters) - With coronavirus bringing soccer across the globe to a standstill, the world of esports is helping clubs pull together to support those which are struggling financially - and keep fans entertained.
Few would have imagined Leyton Orient, who play in England’s fourth tier, to be pioneers in the field - but over the weekend the club’s media team set the wheels in motion for a 128-team FIFA 20 tournament featuring sides from around the globe.
They set up a fundraising page, with 75% of the money earned to be divided up between the English Football League (EFL) clubs, with the rest heading to the mental health charity MIND and the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fundraiser.
“As much as there’s rivalry in football, I think the bottom line is that everyone - to an extent - likes to look out for each other and everyone wants to do the right thing a lot of the time,” Orient media manager Luke Lambourne told Reuters.
“If we can have a fundraiser that helps other clubs and everyone can have a bit of fun at the same time, then everyone’s a winner.
“Over the weekend a lot of clubs engaged in various ways, and we decided we could probably do something a bit more engaging and interesting that people will like and capture the imagination. That’s where the FIFA idea came from.”
The draw for the tournament took place via the club’s Twitter feed on Wednesday, with the likes of Orlando Pirates from South Africa, Premier League champions Manchester City and French Ligue 1 Lille among the names in the hat.
“There’s a real mix of teams, it’s been crazy,” Lambourne said. “Clubs will set up their own streams and done on a club by club basis rather than us managing it all. The fans will be able to watch it and get involved and help with the donations.
“The EFL have been really supportive. We’ve just had a donation of 25,000 pounds from Sky Bet which has blown us away as it came from absolutely nowhere and now we’ve got 27,000 of our 50,000 target raised already.
“It’s been really good and the bottom line of it is that un these unprecedented times, a lot of clubs are really going to struggle and they’re going to go to the wall with no matchday income; so for us we were keen to make sure we would do something that would benefit that.
“As it snowballed we realised we could do something really quite positive with the initiative.”
Reporting by Joseph Cassinelli, editing by Ed Osmond