Future stars shine bright
For anyone walking past Marks Park sports club in Johannesburg this weekend, they would be forgiven for thinking that the FIFA Confederations Cup had started early.
With ‘Spain', ‘Italy', ‘Brazil', ‘South Africa', ‘New Zealand', ‘Iraq', ‘USA' and ‘Egypt' all battling it out over the weekend for the Schools Confederations Cup national finals, the football was sizzling as crowds gathered to witness the action on the fields.
The national teams were not getting in some extra tournament practice before 14 June but rather it was the schools, whose provinces were asked to adopt participating FIFA Confederations Cup nations, that were battling it out for the national schools title.
The schools tournament forms part of the 'My 2010 School Adventure' campaign, an initiative between the departments of Education and Sport and Recreation and the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee (OC) , which aims to promote both education and participation in football at a school level using the World Cup as a platform from which to do this.
In what they will surely hope is a good omen for the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup, the ‘USA', adopted by the North West province and ‘Iraq', adopted by the Western Cape, took the under-18 girls and boys title respectively. The under-14 tournament was an all-African affair with the African Union, adopted by KwaZulu Natal winning the boys title and South Africa, adopted by Gauteng, winning the girls title.
With over 8000 schools initially entering the tournament the victory of the four national winners is certainly no small matter.
"We are all so happy. We have wanted to win this since the beginning of the tournament last year. I know the people back home in the North West will be happy, they all call us the ‘USA boys'," said the captain of the winning North West province under-18 team, Johannes Tlapu.
The mid-fielder may be looking forward to seeing some of the best teams in the world in South Africa when they arrive for the FIFA Confederations Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup™ one year later, but he has dreams of one day playing in a World Cup himself.
"This tournament is great for us as it will help us to become great football players and I hope you will see me play in Brazil for the  World Cup".
For the Chief Executive Officer of the OC, Dr Danny Jordaan, the schools tournament is important for development of football in South Africa.
"The roots of South African football are in the schools and this tournament has set a good example."
For Jordaan, the tournament also provided a chance to get South Africa's children involved in the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup.
"The Confederations Cup is about participation, we must bring you into the stadiums," said Jordaan as he announced that all winning teams will receive tickets to the FIFA Confederations Cup. As the crowd cheered and screamed in appreciation of the gesture, each captain happily came up to the stage to collect their tickets. For most of the young players it is the first time they will see world class teams in action.
Tickets were not the only reward for the young footballers with FIFA Partner adidas sponsoring all the team kits for the 36 participating teams.
"When the Organising Committee and the department of Education and Sports and Recreation approached us to sponsor the tournament we did not think twice. As partners we aim to mobilise our young people and promote mass participation of learners," said adidas public relations manager, Zobuzwe Ngobese.
For the Deputy Director General of the Department of Education, Gugu Ndebele, the tournament and the My 2010 School Adventure campaign will be one of the greatest legacy benefits of hosting the World Cup.
"The My 2010 Adventure and this tournament is an opportunity to involve young people in 2010, it is the future of South Africa's children that is the real legacy of us hosting the tournament. It is also important that the legacy of this campaign goes beyond 2010. I am sure we will see many of these players in the Brazil World Cup in 2014".