Football Festival brings hope to the world

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Johannesburg - Thirty-two soccer teams from across the world are battling it out in South Africa, but this time, the young boys and girls competing are not just in it for the trophy.

Each team is fighting for a cause, hoping to make an impact on the world with more than just their soccer skills.

The 32 mixed teams of boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 18 represent teams that tackle issues such as Aids, gang violence, corruption, discrimination and drugs.

The teams are part of the Football for Hope Festival that kicked off in Alexandra on Sunday.

Like the opening ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Football for Hope tournament started with celebrations, dance and songs, with a number dignitaries present.

While South African artists Danny K, Kabelo and JR entertained the jubilant crowd, President Jacob Zuma and FIFA President Sepp Blatter had words of wisdom for the participating teams.

Zuma said it was an honour to host the Football for Hope Festival in South Africa and more especially in Alexandra - a place of happiness.

He described the festival as an "important development in the family of soccer".

"Soccer is loved by the majority of the world. What the leaders of soccer have decided is that it must now act more because football is more than just football, it goes beyond the game," he said.

There are important life lessons - such as being happy in victory and accepting defeat with a smile - that could be learnt through the game of soccer, the president added.

"I wish I was young once again so I could play soccer," he joked.

The aim of Football for Hope Festival was to connect people and to bring people together from all over the world, Blatter said.

The festival brought together the "characters and the essence of the game to disseminate a message of hope to the world hope through football", he said.

He described soccer as a school of life saying the game helped educate not just on the field.

"Football is a game based on discipline and respect. It's a game in which you compete with a good spirit and with fair play," Blatter added.

He encouraged the participants to display these qualities during their matches.

The first match of the tournament saw Uruguay, a team that fights for children's rights and social inclusion, play against hosts, Team Alexandra - a team made up of young volunteer coaches from Play Soccer South Africa.

Apart from the football, the teams competing in the tournament will also participate in workshops where they are expected to learn from each other. The festival also includes a programme of cultural celebrations.