Building their hopes on football

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rustenburg - When FIFA President Sepp Blatter opened the envelope in May 2004 which revealed South Africa as the first African country to host the soccer world cup, screams of jubilation could be heard across the country as people spontaneously took to the streets in euphoria. Chris Bathembu looks at one of the legacy projects that will be derived as a spin-off that will live beyond this momentous tourney. .

From Soweto to the rich suburbs of Sandton, celebrations broke loose and South African flags were seen waving in every township.

South African business and tourism authorities were joyful over the decision hoping to draw multi-million rand deals from the contracts and visitors who would grace the country's shores.

But as the idea of hosting an event of this magnitude started to sink in, questions emerged on the streets as to what it could do to change the lives of ordinary folks and change the negative perception about Africa.

Even Blatter urged South Africans to use the tournament to spread hope that would change the lives of the people across the entire continent. The idea of Football for Hope centres was introduced to benefit poor communities at grassroots level. The world's most powerful man in football argued that it would be a sad day in history if the tournament, which is probably the last to be witnessed by the current generation, failed to inspire Africans to make something major out of it.

But Blatter's wish was granted this week when the residents of Mogwase, a small township outside Rustenburg, became the first to witness some of the legacy projects the 2010 FIFA World Cup promised to bring to South Africa.

They were chosen to be the first beneficiaries of one of many community Football Turfs and football centres. More than R6 million will be spent on constructing the artificial pitch and a state-of the art centre that will boast modern day technology to help the people of Mogwase, both young and old, realise their potential. Similar centres will be built across the country and later the continent and its legacy will surely go beyond the World Cup in June.

Dubbed South Africa's biggest grassroots football development programme, these specialized turf fields and community football centres promise to leave a lasting legacy for the soccer loving nation long after the final whistle has blown. Paramount to this is each project's ability to positively impact health, education and prevailing social ills that confront this community every day.

For a young boy living in Sandown, a turf field may be a familiar amenity found at the back of every school, but for 16-year-old Omphile Motsoasele, who attends school at a local Holy Family Combined School, it will be a life changing experience. An experience that will ensure that his football skills do not end on the streets of Mogwase but could one day help him showcase his talent as one of the 22 men who will represent Bafana Bafana in the world cup in 2014.

Soccer has always been the number one sport in Omphile's school but without proper pitches and the necessary infrastructure for development, it meant that he and his peers had to travel to Rustenburg, some 30 kilometers away, for them to be able to play on good pitches.

"We started to lose interest in the game and most of us, though we love to play we were forced to just focus on academics because we are not given any choice to go to the field and play," says Omphile.

"I am really motivated by this and will start playing again and one day I hope I will make it to the Bafana team because nothing will stop me. Now I will have everything I need right here," he said.

His fellow schoolmate Thuto Mpofu is however still playing soccer despite the unsatisfactory condition of local pitches. He has to visit soccer stores on a regular basis to buy soccer boots because of the conditions on the pitch. "One pair does not last for six months and it's really a challenge for some of us who cannot afford. I am very excited all that will change in the near future," he said. Like Omphile, Thuto is hoping that the football centres will bring back the glory days of football in Mogwase, a place home to an estimated 15 000 people.

For the elderly, who have watched their kids drown in crime and drug use, the project is a symbol of hope.

Abel Maila, 56, has lived in Mogwase all his life and recalls how soccer used to be loved in the area. He argues that some of the famous faces in the Premier Soccer League trace their roots to the township.

"Our game is dead and it pains us because soccer is the only sport our children can identify with but we are very happy to have been chosen for this legacy's not too late to revive the game," said Maila, who is a member of the School Governing Body at Holy Family Combined school where the turf fields will be situated.

He says the fields will not only benefit the learners of the school but the community as well.

"Presently, sports activities have declined in this area and we are committed to change that; thanks to this legacy project; there is no looking back for us now," said Maila, who was instrumental in convincing Danny Jordaan and his team to bring the project to the community of this township.

"Since 2008, we have been at pains trying to convince them that we can do it here," he said. And who could refuse such a request from a school that has managed to have a 100 percent matric pass rate for four consecutive years since 2006.

As the school principal Nair Kuttappan points out, the football centre and the turf fields may not be the sole answer to the challenges that face this community, but it may signal the beginning of new and better things to come.

"I have known this community for a very long time and I am convinced that these facilities will be kept in very good condition," said Kuttappan.

With less than four months before South Africa becomes the first African country to host the prestigious tournament, World Cup fever is surely heating up and for communities like this one the excitement is certain to go beyond July 11.