Dancing with the superstars

Harare – For millions of football fans in Africa, it is a dream come true just to get to the stadium and be part of the crowd to watch Didier Drogba, John Obi Mikel, Emmanuel Adebayor and Seydou Keita in action.
Some pay huge sums of money in airfares to Europe, accommodation and ticket fees, just to be part of the crowd, in one match, that sees these superstars live in action.
Once every two years, though, most of the fans get their chance when the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) comes alive and for about three weeks, these superstars will be in action in battles for their country.
For 700 lucky children, drawn from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Ghana – the three-week 2013 AFCON showcase does not just provide that dream opportunity to watch these superstars live in action. In fact, it provides a grand opportunity for them to not only watch these superstars up close and personal, but also to hold their hands.
They will also be using this to be ambassadors in Africa’s long fight against malaria.
And all this free of charge.
You have probably seen the player escorts, who come out of the tunnel holding hands of the superstars ahead of kick-off, and in South Africa alone, there are 700 children performing that role.
They are all part of the Official Player Escorts programme, sponsored by Standard Bank, which started during the 2010 Nations Cup finals in Angola.
“During the tournament, more than 700 children from across Africa will participate in a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, being part of the game lead-up in each of the five stadiums during the event’s 32 matches,” Standard Bank, the official sponsor of AFCON, said on its official website.
“As part of Standard Bank’s long-standing support of United against Malaria (UAM) – a social awareness project that is also officially supported and endorsed by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) – each Player Escort’s shirt will carry the UAM branding on the sleeve.
“UAM is a partnership of football teams and heroes, celebrities, health and advocacy organisations, governments, corporations and people who have united to win the fight against malaria.
“Through the Official Player Escorts, CAF, Standard Bank and UAM hope to continue to help raise global awareness on the need to end malaria, by increasing the resources and use of available prevention and treatment tools in Africa.”
The bank said CAF tournament regulations determine eligibility to participate in the Player Escort Programme.
Player Escorts may be boys or girls between eight and 12 years old, and must meet the height requirement of less than 1.5m.
Jenny Pheiffer, head of brand and sponsorships at Standard Bank, revealed that those who are participating at the 2013 AFCON finals were drawn from their employees in a number of countries.
“Children participating in the Player Escort Programme come from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Ghana, with a large proportion drawn from Standard Bank’s employee network, as we believe that the game’s biggest supporters, fans and ambassadors come from within our Standard Bank family,” said Pheiffer.
Standard Bank said they were repaying their pool of employees, through recruitment of their children to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime initiative, because they were big supporters of the Nations Cup.
As official sponsors of the tournament, Standard Bank has also been involved in other initiatives to boost awareness towards the 2013 Nations Cup finals.
The bank was the exclusive sponsor of the Trophy Tour, which gave fans in a number of countries the chance to have photos taken with the official trophy.
The Trophy Tour saw the Nations Cup go to 11 African cities.
“Standard Bank is the official financial services sponsor of the Orange Africa Cup of Nations, South Africa 2013 and the Trophy Tour is a successfully established initiative by CAF and the bank to present ‘Africa's Cup’ to fans in the run-up to the event,” the bank said in the build-up to the tournament.
“The 2008 tournament in Ghana and the 2010 event in Angola were also supported by Standard Bank Trophy Tours.
”The Orange Africa Cup of Nations is a tournament steeped in history and over the past 55 years of competition we have seen some memorable tournaments.
“We see this as a major opportunity to connect with our customers, football fans and our employees through our shared passion for Africa and African football.
“It will allow them an opportunity to become part of the South Africa 2013 tournament and share their love for the game.”
Some of the escorts were even featured on SuperSport, turning them into part of the stars of the tournament and after spending three weeks up close and personal with the superstars, they have every right to start feeling like them.

February 2013
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