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Football Tournament for Underprivileged Youths Kicks Off in South Africa


As the football World Cup enters its final days, South African President Jacob Zuma and senior football officials have kicked off a parallel seven-day tournament between teams of underprivileged young people, girls and boys, from 32 countries. This is the first tournament of the Football for Hope program, which aims to use the popularity of football to bring social change. It is part of FIFA's World Cup legacy program.

The head of football's governing body, Sepp Blatter, accompanied the South African president to the impoverished township of Alexandra, in northeastern Johannesburg, for the launch of the Football for Hope Tournament. Blatter said this tournament's focus is global and social advancement.

"And what is the aim of Football for Hope? It is to connect people, to bring people together, people from all around the world and to enjoy this game. You know, we are with the World Cup in South Africa. It is (Is it) for the African continent? No, it is for the whole world," said Blatter.

Blatter also praised South Africa for organizing the first World Cup on African soil. President Zuma responded by thanking the FIFA president for his unwavering support in the face of those who doubted the event could be held successfully in Africa.

"What is special about the president of FIFA is that even at a point when there were skeptics who were saying this can not happen, he said it will happen," said Zuma. "People did not believe we could do it. And yes, we have done it. This has been a wonderful tournament, now, topping it up, is Football for Hope."

The Football for Hope program is sponsored by FIFA in partnership with civic groups in some 50 countries. It seeks to attract disadvantaged young people through football to promote education on health and children's rights, peace building, anti-discrimination and the environment.

A team of Israeli and Palestinian youths is competing, as well as squads from Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, Cambodia, Britain and the United States. There are no referees. The players must resolve any disputes themselves.

FIFA says it plans to build 20 Football for Hope Centers in Africa this year. Two have already been launched in the South African cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg.

As the tournament was kicking off, thousands of football fans turned out in Johannesburg to bid an emotional farewell to Ghana's national team. The team was returning home after losing its World Cup match Friday to Uruguay on penalty kicks. Ghana had carried the hopes of the continent when became the only African team to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.

But that did not stop the outpouring of support from people like Tumi Bule. "I am excited to see the guys [Ghanaians]. They look [like] they have recovered from the whole drama, so I think we are all happy now. 2 014, we will be there. We will win the World Cup," said Bule.

The Ghana team bus paraded from the southeastern township of Soweto to the northern suburb of Melrose Arch, and the team later met former President Nelson Mandela at his home.

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