Shooting for one goal

2009-04-14 00:00

TWO months before the 2010 Fifa tournament opens in South Africa, the first official Mini World Cup will be staged in Pietermaritzburg.

Kicking off at Hilton College for a week during Easter 2010, the Mini World Cup will bring together about 300 boys and girls from schools and townships in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands and from youth groups from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Germany. They will be taking part in a five-day soccer camp with a coaching clinic, a football competition, team-building sessions and other fun events.

The players will be matched with and against participants from local, national and international guest sides. They will be divided into juniors (13 to 17 years) and seniors (18 to 22 years) in two dozen teams or more. Each team will be built from scratch. A typical squad will have, for example, a Zimbabwean on the wing, a girl from Germany in goal, a girl from St Anne’s in defence, a midfielder from Edendale and a striker from the Eastern Cape.

The teams will be put through intensive training with coaches and referees from under the South African Football Association (Safa) banner and an experienced mentor from Germany.

Whether the tournament will take the form of a league championship or a knockout tournament is still being decided.

* * *

The mission of the Mini World Cup, say its promoters, is to help young people in Pietermaritzburg and the midlands to “shoot for one goal” in making the best of the opportunities presented by the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

One spin-off from this motley bunch of youngsters playing soccer at full tilt for five days non-stop will, of course, be a pool of budding football talent. But for the promoters, the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (Pacsa), the biggest bonus of the World Cup will be the lessons the juniors learn off the field of play — the life skills that will shape the way they think and behave long after 2010.

Pacsa calls its initiative Bopha Siyakhona (“going forward together”). The idea is for the players to get to know each other in soccer matches and coaching clinics, art projects and cultural exchanges, and workshops in which they feel free to speak openly about the challenges they face in their young lives. That way, says Bernd Schultheiss, a youth consultant with Pacsa, “we can forge a rainbow nation on the soccer field”.

From this ethnic and cultural melting pot, Pacsa sees two kinds of “multipliers” becoming active in Msunduzi and the midlands — the players with new-found soccer and sociability skills who challenge negative attitudes when they go back to their schools and communities, and the leaders who have learnt to understand and respect other individuals for their abilities and potential.

Says Mirolyn Naidoo, manager of a Pacsa partner, RivLife: “We want to expose the youth that we serve to the opportunities arising from the 2010 Fifa World Cup, especially since one of the semi-finals will be hosted in our province.”

RivLife is a community organisation in Pietermaritzburg offering psycho-social services, home-based care for the terminally ill, and housing and care of orphans.

Several youngsters attended a Bopha Siyakhona workshop organised by RivLife in August 2008. “They are looking forward to championing the cause of unity, building the nation one youth at a time,” says Naidoo.

Says Andile Ngcobo, Pacsa’s Bopha Siyakhona co-ordinator: “We see the 2010 Fifa World Cup as a source of pride in our nation and a rallying point for optimists. We at Pacsa believe Bopha Siyakhona will help create new leaders in our country, who are able to go beyond our history of prejudice and personal agendas.”

The Bopha Siyakhona initiative — A model for nation building

BOPHA Siyakhona is the brainchild of the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (Pacsa). The football project was born as an idea of Bernd Schultheiss, a youth consultant from Germany who works for Pacsa in conflict transformation and youth development.

When Germany hosted the Fifa World cup in 2006, Schultheiss was working with a community of homeless and disabled people housed in a former sawmill, Herzogsaegmuehle, in a diocese near Munich.

“The community was represented in a mixed team that toured towns and cities around Europe, bringing diversity together in a national youth soccer championship,” Schultheiss says.

“The 2006 World Cup tournament was a turning point. It came during a period of economic depression following reunification in October 3, 1990. The German national squad brought together players from both sides of Cold War Germany.

“After Germany 2006, people were more united, more positive and more open with each other.”

In the same way, Schultheiss believes, youngsters in Pietermaritzburg can take advantage of opportunities presented by the 2010 Fifa World Cup, to mix with and learn from children from Europe and Zimbabwe and other parts of South Africa in a series of encounters centred around football. That way they build football skills on the field and build life skills off the field, in a programme of fun events and exchanges.

“The aim is to build trust, breaking down social barriers and developing a generation of skilled, involved leaders for the future.”

But how does Pacsa see its role in Bopha Siyakhona?

Schutlheiss says: “The Mini World Cup will foster collaboration and networking between participating organisations and schools from very different areas, and hopefully become a model for nation building that can be replicated in other contexts.”

Since last year, an organising committee comprising youngsters of 15 and older has been preparing for the Mini World Cup in a programme of workshops and exchanges. Team-building and project management is the order of the day, supported by teachers, parents and representatives of NGOs and community youth groups.

How can soccer help us to deal with our past?

“What drives the Mini World Cup mission?” The Witness asked its promoters, Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (Pacsa).

Andile Ngcobo is the Pacsa Bopha Siyakhona co-ordinator.

He believes the event will go on uplifting youth in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands long after 2010.

Ngcobo explains: “As a young South African, I question if the rainbow nation ever did exist. Have we begun to deal with our past, and will we ever move forward? Memories of apartheid are still raw for many. Many still think skin colour defines who you are.

“When race is less influential, like in some suburban schools, class prejudice is as strong as ever, and it cuts across all races. And regardless of race and class, girls continue to suffer prejudice and violence from men.”

But how does soccer make a difference?

Ngcobo explains: “Sport is a powerful way to transform harmful attitudes and teach young people the value of discipline. Soccer is a team sport and requires discipline to succeed. Teamwork gets you working with others and leads to personal growth and understanding.

“But we must also raise the question: when will our government put decent sporting facilities into schools in African communities? Schools in these poorer and remoter parts cannot play on a level field with multiracial or elite schools. Until they do, a genuine rainbow nation sports team will be hard to achieve.”

Sign up and help out

BOPHA Siyakhona is supported in the training of coaches and referees by the South African Football Association and has been keenly adopted by Pietermaritzburg and district NGOs, and schools in posh suburbs and dusty townships alike.

Funding has already come from the Msunduzi Municipality and Misereor, a Catholic organisation based in Germany. Additional funding and sponsorship will be canvassed from South African and German sports clubs and companies that deal, for instance, in sports equipment, footwear and clothing.

The following institutions have already signed up to partner Pacsa for the 2010 Mini World Cup: Hilton Valley Health and Development

Committee, Targeted Aids Intervention, Richmond Youth Group, Edendale Soccer Club, the Young Men’s Christian Association, Churches in Eastwood, RivLife Community Centre Youth, Hilton College, St Anne’s College, Herzogsaegmuehle in Germany, Goedgedacht and CWD youth groups of the Western Cape, Ekupholeni Youth Group from Johannesburg, diocesan youth groups in the Free State and Eastern Cape, and Zimbabwe refugee groups living in and around Pietermaritzburg.

To sign up as a volunteer or a sponsor, or to find out more, phone Andile Ngcobo at Pacsa at 033 342 0052 or e-mail andilen@pacsa.org.za

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