Football fest provides poor with hope for future

Sat Jul 10, 2010 8:12am EDT
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By Gideon Long

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters Life!) - The World Cup is not the only soccer tournament reaching its climax in Johannesburg this weekend.

Just a few miles from Soccer City, where Spain take on the Netherlands on Sunday night in a match that will be watched by tens of millions of people across the globe, another final will take place in very different circumstances.

It will be staged in Alexandra, one of the city's poorest townships and a hotbed of protest during the apartheid years in South Africa.

Amid the corrugated iron shacks and slum housing, where the young Nelson Mandela once lived, two groups of teenagers will face off in the deciding match of "Football for Hope," a five-a-side tournament running alongside the World Cup.

Just as at the World Cup, 32 teams have taken part in the tournament in recent weeks.

But rather than playing for their countries, the players here are representing community groups from around the world that have one thing in common -- they all use football, in one way or another, to try to make the world a better place.

So, for example, there is a delegation from Cambodia that encourages children to play football, and then -- once it has their attention -- teaches them about the danger of land mines.

Other delegations have come from within Africa, where they use football to bring kids together and educate them about HIV and AIDS.   Continued...