News / Africa

Young Footballers Play for Reconciliation, Social Change

Eighteen year-old Sello Mahlangu is the coach of Team Alexandra
Eighteen year-old Sello Mahlangu is the coach of Team Alexandra

As the 2010 football World Cup enters its final hours in South Africa, another football tournament is taking place in the impoverished township of Alexandra, in northeastern Johannesburg. Several hundred young people from disadvantaged communities in nearly 40 countries are competing for the 'Football for Hope' trophy.

A team of Israeli and Palestinian boys and girls, called the Peace Team, battles against a squad from Rwanda, called Hope, in the Football for Hope tournament.

The participants are from disadvantaged communities, many of which have been scarred by conflict and poverty. There are teams from Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia as well as from Australia, Britain and the United States.

There are no referees in the tournament. The players must settle any fouls or disputes themselves.

The matches have attracted thousands of fans from this struggling Johannesburg community, to celebrate hope and social change.

The football governing body -- FIFA -- sponsors the program, in partnership with 50 civic groups.

"The purpose of Football for Hope is that of using the power of the game, football, in order to address social challenges around the world," explained Federico Addiechi, FIFA's head of Corporate Responsibility. "It's a movement that was created back in 2005 in order to address those social challenges, in order to make a concrete contribution with the game of football."

On a field nearby, neighborhood children kick footballs into a net in exchange for prizes.  

The "football for hope" program seeks to promote education on health and children's rights, peace-building, anti-discrimination, HIV/AIDS and the environment.

Sello Mahlangu, 18, is the coach of Team Alexandra, which is hosting the tournament. A local volunteer, he lives with his mother and three siblings in Alexandra.

"This event has done a lot for me," he said. "I've been to many places, done many interviews. It has given me opportunities to showcase my potential."

This is the first tournament FIFA has held as part of its 'Football for Hope' program.  Addiechi says there will be more because FIFA wants the World Cup to leave a legacy.

"The Football for Hope movement is our permanent activity," he explained. "It's part of our social responsibility and has been going on now for five years. And it will continue long after 2010 and even 2014 [the next World Cup]."

FIFA has pledged to build 20 Football for Hope Centers across Africa this year. Each center is to contain sports fields as well as facilities for education and health care.

Addiechi says FIFA wants to show that football can be a powerful force to unite communities and improve the lives of less fortunate people.

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