Doing it for the kids

Training the Cristiano Ronaldos or Xu Xin’s of the future can have consequences as far-reaching as boosting a country’s economy. Vision reports

There was not much to do in Ekangala in 2011. The 50,000-strong town, one hour’s drive from Pretoria, boasted three schools, a post office, and not much else – until Danny Jordaan came to visit.

As part of its legacy programme after hosting the 2010 World Cup, South Africa committed to building 52 ‘football turfs’, one in each region of the South African Football Association (SAFA). As well as giving young footballers the opportunity to play, the artificial pitches formed part of a new community centre in each region, intended to be a hub for social development.

“Every day in South Africa, thousands of young boys and girls are forced to play their favourite game on the dusty streets of our townships,” said 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee Chief Executive Officer Danny Jordaan, at the launch of the programme. “They have very little prospect of leaving those streets to pursue a career – of any sort – whether it be in football or business. I am confident that this project will make a difference and that many young stars will emerge from these facilities.”

Young people in South Africa continue to prosper from staging the World Cup. As part of the financial gains from the tournament, almost 43 million rand has been invested in the development of league football at junior levels. By September 2014, 82 million rand alone had been allocated to projects targeting football development, education, capacity- building and health.

It is a similar story in Dubai. The Ping Pong Dubai initiative has installed table tennis tables across many of the emirate’s public parks, so that children could be introduced to the sport in a softer and more relaxed social environment. The huge growth of Ping Pong Dubai’s social media following is testimony to its success, with the Ping Pong Dubai 2014 Open and corporate tournaments seeing more than 500 people from countries including China, India, Europe and the UAE do battle, from the ages of 10 to 67.

Academies set up by sports superstars such as footballer Frédéric Kanouté, cricketer Kevin Pietersen and basketball player Zoran Savic are inspiring the next generation of athletes in the emirate by offering world-class training from leading coaches and players in top-class facilities.

Sainsbury's School Games
17,500 institutes took part in last year's Sainsbury's School Games, where pupils from schools across the UK competed with each-other

“Grassroots football is so important in the development of young players, and hopefully with the network I have in Europe we will be able to help kids who are very talented get clubs,” said former West Ham, Tottenham and Sevilla striker Kanouté at the opening of his Kafo Academy. “But at the very base,” he added, “this is not our objective, as we really wants kids to enjoy football, and if some can make it, then we would love to help them.”