Football against HIV/AIDS
Harare – It started from humble beginnings in Bulawayo but it is growing into a phenomenal global project, which uses football to tackle HIV/AIDS, and now counts, among its partners, FIFA, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and British singer Elton John.
The HIV/AIDS initiative, with an annual budget of about US$4.2 million, has its African headquarters based in Cape Town, where it runs projects in conjunction with FIFA.
Its presence is felt in Zambia, Botswana, Malawi, Lesotho, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ukraine, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti and India.
Grassroot Soccer (GRS) was launched 10 years ago by Tommy Clark, who had played for Highlanders during the time he lived in Zimbabwe, Methembe Ndlovu, a former Zimbabwe international and Kirk Friedrich, an American who had also played top-flight football in Zimbabwe.
Clark, who is the GRS founder and chief executive, was just 14 when his family moved to Zimbabwe.
“When I was 14, the world came to me,” he wrote in a letter recalling how the project came about.
“My family moved to Zimbabwe where my father coached a Zimbabwean professional soccer team. Living in Zimbabwe was to be the most profound experience of my life.
“Despite many dramatic differences between our hosts and us, we became accepted and trusted because of our shared enjoyment of a game.
“I spent most of my time in the dusty townships, playing soccer or wandering around with African friends from my team. HIV had yet to unleash the full power of its devastation.”
Another relocation of the family followed, this time to the United States, but Clark was to return to Zimbabwe, as a teacher, where he also played for Bosso (Highlanders).
“I left Zimbabwe a year later to return to Dartmouth to attend medical school. Over the next four years I got reports that more and more of my friends have died and became convinced that using soccer players, who were heroes in their communities, was a strategy that could potentially break through the deafening silence that surrounded HIV,” Clark wrote.
In the fall of 2002, Clark and Methembe Ndlovu, who captained Zimbabwe, and later attended Dartmouth College – travelled to Bulawayo, to meet with community leaders, headmasters, and focus groups of children and teachers and planned a pilot project that was launched in January 2003.
“We worked with a consultant to develop a culturally appropriate soccer-based curriculum, then recruited and trained 14 professional men and women soccer players as HIV educators and Grassroot Soccer was born.
“My vision for Grassroot Soccer has grown from the initial concept of using professional African soccer players as HIV educators into mobilising the global soccer community to fight the spread of the virus in a broad range of ways through an array of partnerships and programmes.
“For me, GRS has been the culmination of my life’s experiences: part of a professional soccer family and a player myself, my experiences in Zimbabwe both before and after the devastation of HIV and as a paediatrician dedicated to improving the health of children around the globe.”
In 2007, Grassroot Soccer launched several community-based football for development programmes across South Africa.
The arrival of the 2010 World Cup opened new avenues for the organisation.
“The FIFA World Cup 2010 offered a unique opportunity for sport-for-development organisations like Grassroot Soccer to highlight the power of soccer as an educational tool and raise the world’s awareness of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic,” the organisation aid on its official website.
“Given GRS’s proven success at using football as a tool for social development, GRS has become a member of the street football world network, and remains a strong contributor to the Football for Hope ovement.
“As part of GRS’s involvement with the Football for Hope movement, GRS has managed the FIFA 20 Centres for 2010 Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha since December 2009.
“In early 2013, GRS will also be managing the newest Football for Hope Centre in Alexandra upon its completion.”
Last week FIFA poured more than R59 million into projects, including the Football for Hope Centre, as part of the FIFA 2010 World Cup Legacy Trust.
Funds were provided for health and 24 projects to support basic, as well as higher education studies, to build capacity of current and future football administrators in South Africa. About R49 million was poured into projects for football development, including women’s football, futsal and beach football.
The board of the FIFA 2010 World Cup Legacy Trust, chaired by Danny Jordaan, who organised the 2010 World Cup, revealed that it had approved the first 973 beneficiaries.
FIFA has transferred about R450 million into the FIFA 2010 World Cup Legacy Trust accounts.
“The trust was set up so that South African football and NGOs dealing with community development through football can continue to be recipients of the FIFA World Cup’s financial reward on a long-term basis,” FIFA secretary-general, Jerome Valcke, said in Johannesburg on Friday.
“It is a great moment today to see the first public projects being awarded.”
Jordaan said they have been overwhelmed by the responses.
“Since we launched the application process on June 1, 2012, we have been overwhelmed by the response from fellow South Africans,” he told the media briefing.
“We are delighted with how this process has unfolded. It was extremely difficult for us to choose nearly 1 000 applications from the 4 347 we received.” South African Sports Minister, Fikile Mbalula, described it as a momentous occasion. “On this occasion of the first disbursement of the FIFA World Cup 2010 Legacy Trust fund, which coincides with the kick-off of the Africa Cup of Nations, we pay homage to the men and women who have made it possible for us to empower and liberate our people through football,” said Mbalula.
“We raise our flags high as we salute our South African compatriots, our fellow Africans and everyone who made it possible for us to successfully host the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
“Today, we stand tall with pride and optimism as we make allocations to deserving South African citizens. We pledge ourselves to be transparent and uphold principles of good governance during the disbursement of the funds, so that football, education and social welfare are the true beneficiaries.
“Our campaign to launch an assault on poverty, unemployment and inequality is gaining momentum! Always forwards, never backwards.” Methembe Ndlovu, the former Young Warriors’ coach, was recognized as a co-founder of the organisation in 2005 and his commitment to the project has been hailed by GRS.
“Methembe rose from a poor township in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, to attend Dartmouth College, one of the premier universities in the US and then returned to Zimbabwe where he captained the national team, the nation’s highest honour for a soccer player,” GRS said.
“His decision to stay in Zimbabwe and work to turn the tide against HIV has been a true mark of commitment.”