Italian soccer club AS Roma is known for its passionate fans and cunning playing styles. It's the former home to some of the sport’s icons like Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi. And now its legacy will include something that goes beyond the game.
Roma has teamed up with charities around the globe to bring attention to missing children cases as they announce new players who sign to the club.
The campaign started in 2019 during the summer transfer window, during which time photos and videos of missing children appeared on the club's social media accounts alongside announcements of new players.
“We just thought that we have a platform to do something different and it could be difficult because signing a player is supposed to be a joyous moment and this is very serious,” Paul Rogers, AS Roma's chief strategy officer, told InsideEdition.com. “We didn’t enter this for a pat on the back.”
Roma's campaign stemmed from Soul Asylum's music video for the 1990s hit "Runaway Train.” The video included faces and names of missing children alongside phone numbers to call. Depending on where you were in the United States, you saw a different version of the video featuring local children.
AS Roma modeled its campaign after the music video's formula and features children on its social media accounts based on where fans are following from.
“We have other language accounts and thought we could do something in a viral nature and use awareness and publicize a case,” he said. "Once a decision is made to publicize a case, [the goal] is to get it to as many people as possible to see it."
In 72 videos published since last June, 109 children have been featured, Rogers said. The videos have been viewed over 11 million times.
Roma teamed up with International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Center for Missing Children (ICMEC) in Washington, D.C., among other charities, to help get the names and faces of missing kids out there into the world.
Bob Cunningham, the CEO of the ICMEC told InsideEdition.com that teaming up with the soccer world was "an awesome opportunity to raise awareness."
"A missing kid is a vulnerable kid," he said. "We appreciate the soccer world and we need organizations like AS Roma with reach to get this word out and they couldn't be better partners.
"Over a million kids go missing every year around the world. We only get reliable data from nine countries and there are 195 countries," Cunningham continued. "This crisis of missing kids is where humanity is dropping the ball."
The nine countries who report to ICMEC are Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Russia, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Cunningham says ICMEC uses cutting edge technology to search on the clear and dark webs for missing kids and "the technology never sleeps as long as a case remains open."
Since launching the campaign, six children have been found. Three of the missing children found were from London, two from Kenya and one was from Belgium.
"This has a stellar kind of success rate because of the popularity of soccer around the world and the popularity of this club," Cunningham explained.
The team’s main objective is to find “as many children as possible,” Rogers said, noting the team hopes to see its efforts especially take off on May 25, International Missing Children's Day. Roma hopes more clubs, including powerhouses like Manchester United, Manchester City and Barcelona, all join in.
“Roma can only do so much because of our strength and following,” he said. “Football clubs have got power. On May 25, we have a great opportunity to put it in front of millions of people.”
May 25 is the day six-year-old Etan Patz went missing in 1979 in New York City, becoming the country's first "milk carton kid." President Ronald Reagan later established it as Missing Children's Day in America then later in 2001, it became International Missing Children's Day.
Multiple videos will be produced and be geo-targeted as well as featured in different languages in order to maximize the awareness about children who are missing, Cunningham said.
Even the players are joining in. When Roma signed former Manchester United player Chris Smalling, it made a splash in the soccer transfer market in terms of buzz and gossip, but Smalling’s signing helped raise the profile of the campaign.
“He was proud,” Rogers recalled. “He was encouraging other people to get involved.”
One of the announcement videos released with news of Smalling's transfer included news that one child had been found, prompting the player to tweet, “As a father, it makes me so happy to see that this young girl from my announcement video has been reunited with her loved ones. Hopefully we can help a lot more children find their rightful homes.”
Cunningham says he and his team never give up hope and no matter how old the case is. If it is on their radar, ICMEC "continue to work with our partners until a case is resolved. Cases do not get removed from our database until it is resolved," he said.
The fans have also been receptive to the campaign, Rogers said.
“What it does and says to me is that people want to participate in something that is good for their fellow humans,” Rogers said. “People, young people in particular, are very supportive of it and we see universal appeal in it.”