FIFA uses World Cup to tackle HIV/AIDS

Sat Dec 5, 2009 8:18am EST
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By Agnieszka Flak

KHAYELITSHA, South Africa (Reuters) - On a brand-new soccer field in South Africa's second-largest township, teenage boys and girls kick balls and run round hurdles in games soccer authorities hope will help them avoid the scourge of AIDS.

The center, officially launched by soccer's world governing body FIFA on Saturday, is the first of 20 "Football for Hope" hubs to be formed across Africa, meant to use the power of football to help children overcome the continent's multitude of social problems.

"There is no need to play football... if you don't do anything for the health of the young people," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said at Saturday's ceremony.

Six of the centers will be in South Africa, the host of next year's World Cup, the rest across the continent.

In Mali and Ghana, they will focus on anti-discrimination, in Rwanda on the building of peace after a devastating genocide in 1994, in Kenya on the environment and health, and in Namibia on social integration.

In Khayelitsha, the center will be managed by Grassroot Soccer, an organization founded by former professional football players from neighboring Zimbabwe.

"We have lost many friends to HIV/AIDS back in Zimbabwe and we know how much it has devastated the society there and how no one was talking about it and realized what a powerful tool football could be," said the organization's managing director, Kirk Friedrich.

Grassroot Soccer trains coaches, many of them also young people, and in addition to combating AIDS, tries to improve underprivileged children's self-confidence and give them access to resources that will help them get out of the slums.   Continued...