In the dusty streets of the Alexandra townships, or Alex as it is fondly known, a new script is being penned in the history books. In 101 days, Alexandra township, which lies close to the eastern suburbs of Johannesburg, will claim a place in the world arena when 32 teams from all over the world descend upon South Africa for the 2010 Football for Hope Festival.
The countdown to the eagerly-awaited festival, from 4-10 July, began in earnest in Alexandra today as a large media contingent assembled to witness the official launch of the event. Already, excitement is reaching fever pitch.
Alexandra is one of the oldest townships in South Africa and was one of the key areas where apartheid was fought and defeated. While it does not enjoy the same international prestige as its immediate neighbour, Soweto, it is home to some of the country's renowned leaders, and has produced some celebrated footballers, including Maimane Alfred Phiri, who played for South Africa in their first ever FIFA World Cup™ appearance in France in 1998.
The names of the boys and girls who will be representing Alexandra at the festival were announced today. Thumeka Mabayi will be one of the participants at the festival. The 15-year-old hails from Alex and is relishing the chance to meet other young people from different countries during the festival. Despite her disadvantaged background, she aspires to play a vital role in changing her community. “I’m extremely excited to be part of this," she said. "It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. For me, it is an opportunity to empower myself and learn more about other cultures."
Neo Malema is another enthusiastic youngster who is also looking forward to the event. The 16-year-old is optimistic that the festival will provide a window of opportunity for him, and act as a launch pad for his ambitions.
FIFA's Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Federico Addiechi, is confident the decision to take the Football for Hope Festival to Alexandra will pay dividends. He said: “We took this decision three years ago and I know we won’t regret it. I can see the excitement here amongst the locals. Football is an integral part of everyday life, and FIFA believes that we can use the power of sport to influence communities and bring about change. We support more than 100 programmes in over 50 countries worldwide."
Streetfootballworld Managing Director, Jürgen Griesbeck, explained the logistics involved in putting the festival together. He said: “We will have 32 teams from more than 40 countries. Some of the teams will be mixed. When we selected the participants, we did not consider their football talent only, we also looked at other important aspects that are crucial to what we want to achieve. We looked at their community involvement, their responsibility in leaving healthy lives and if they were role models in their communities."
The festival will run for two weeks. The first week will be dedicated to social interaction and cultural exchange between the participants, the second will be used for football activities.
Danny Jordaan, Chief Executive Officer for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, believes that the festival and the new Football for Hope centre will leave a lasting legacy for the people of Alexandra. “While we know that the focus will be on the big stars that will be travel to the FIFA World Cup, it is important that people also support the Football for Hope Festival," said Jordaan. "The festival is about hope, and hope is the most important thing. We have to make sure that after the World Cup we successfully change the image of our country."
Bafana Sithole, member of the City of Johannesburg Mayoral Committee for Community Development, heralded the initiative to bring the festival to Alexandra. “The people of Alexandra should benefit from this, and it is important that this Football for Hope Festival is brought to the people," said Sithole. "The decision to chose Alexandra was a wise one and I’m sure the people of Alex will not disappoint."
Football for Hope Festival is an official event of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It is organised by FIFA, streetfootballworld, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa, and the City of Johannesburg.