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South African Soccer Grannies Aim for Tournament in US

As South Africa prepares to host the first World Cup ever on the African continent, a group of South African women over 50 are playing in a local tournament, hoping to raise funds for an upcoming tournament in America - the Veteran's Cup. The games will be played in the east coast state of Massachusetts this July.

Vakhegula Vakhegula means "Grannies Grannies" in a South African dialect but it's not your typical football team.

The women in this group range from 50 to 84 years old.

They are playing to raise funds for an upcoming trip to the United States and this year's Veteran's Cup tournament, a six-day event with about 100 adult soccer teams.

Just outside Johannesburg, they face the Metro Rails Eagles whose players are in their mid-30s. Although the competition is fierce, they are not intimidated.

Although the crowd cheered them on, the Grannies lost 3 to 1 to their younger opponents. But with or without victory, the women say they enjoy the exercise and prefer it to chores at home or working in the fields.

Onica Ndzovela is 77 and a defender on the team. Before joining, she suffered from back pain and sore knees. But now she feels like a new person. "I am fresh, I don't feel any pain in my body. I can run," she said. "At home I do all the house work by myself. I paint the walls and fit in tiles….a granny of 77 years."

Beka Ntsan'wisi formed the team five years ago as a way to help older women exercise and have fun at the same time.

The players buy their own equipment, but they need funding to participate in competitions.

Ntsan'wisi says the team needs about $70,000 to make it to the United States. "We have been invited to play in America for the Veteran's Cup where the grannies come together and play soccer. Not only the grannies but everyone who's old," she explained. "So my problem now is, the challenge I have is that I don't even have money."

So far only $18,000 have been raised.

As South Africa prepares to host the first World Cup on the African continent, the grannies are also getting ready for their own first cup in America. The Veteran's Cup will be played from July 13 to 18.

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    Mariama Diallo

    Mariama Diallo is a senior reporter covering national and world affairs for Voice of America in multiple languages. She was recently the VOA acting bureau chief for the agency's West Africa office.