I normally don’t write about events I’m invited to in this column as it is strictly a football platform where I prefer to discuss football-related issues. Some of these events are all about razzmatazz but very little value. However, I hope you will forgive me for sticking my neck this time around, as I was blown away by the event I attended recently. I’ve seen full value in what I’ve decided to write my column about this week, looking at the difference made in my own community.
Last Friday, I was invited to the annual two-day Volkswagen Junior Masters Tournament – where kids from across the country battled it out for two places to go and represent South Africa at the 2020 Gothia Cup in Sweden – held at Wits University, Johannesburg.
For the uninitiated, Gothia Cup is the biggest youth tournament in the world and the experience and exposure the Volkswagen Junior Masters winners will gain is invaluable. This could be the exact opportunity these young kids needed to change their lives and those of their families, as some of them come from poor backgrounds and communities.
Strijdom Park VW were crowned as the boys’ winners, while Hatfield VW Melrose emerged as victors in the girls’ tournament. Those are the two teams that will be flying South Africa’s flag high next year and both sets of players couldn’t hide their excitement at the prospect of taking on the enviable task ahead of them. The boys’ team are second timers, while the girls’ made history by becoming the first team to win the tournament as this was the first edition of the girls’ participation in the tournament.
The Junior Masters Tournament is one of the company’s many ways of living up to their payoff line, “Moving people forward”, by creating life-changing opportunities using football. A number of teams representing all the company’s dealerships across the country were flown into the City of Gold to battle it out in this development tournament where young school kids get exposed to competitive football while their development is also being taken care of. In a country where football development is found wanting, it is initiatives like these that will play a major role in taking our football to the next level. It is a stage that should never be taken lightly because, if it is not done well, it has a way of coming back to haunt those who were rushed to senior football without a proper foundation. Some of the kids would have been flying for the first time and chances are they’ve never flown out of the country and the defending champions, Strijdom Park, will know all too well what to expect having won and experienced it all in the previous edition of the tournament.
Young boys and girls from different backgrounds had an opportunity to showcase their talent, braving wet weather conditions and cold, with scouts from different professional football clubs’ development sides and the Women’s National U17 coach, Simphiwe Dludlu – who is one of the tournament’s ambassadors – running the rule over the promising talent that was on display. Dludlu even confirmed during the prize-giving ceremony that there were a couple of players who caught her eye and would be invited for trials at the national team. That means there’s a possibility of a couple of players’ lives being changed completely through this wonderful initiative. There are a number of players who caught the eye of the scouts and looked the part, which wouldn’t have happened without this initiative. Can you imagine how it felt for these young girls to see their role model up close and personal and hear such words from her? Surely that’s a big motivation for the players to ensure that they double their efforts to ensure that the coach keeps tabs on them.
Imagine a young girl or boy from a rural area getting spotted and recruited by a professional club from a tournament like this. One day they turn full-time professional, having been scouted at the VW Junior Masters’ Tournament. That wouldn’t only change that one particular player’s life but that of their family and the community at large because these players are from different communities. I’m one of the examples of the beneficiaries of the many such initiatives by Volkswagen whereby they go an extra mile to change lives.
From interacting with people involved in this initiative, it became clear that there are bigger plans in place, which include organising junior leagues as a way of giving back to the communities, among other things. That will go a long way in shaping the kids’ football career and enhancing their development, as coaches are not left behind.
Coming from the rural Paterson, it was through a VW bursary initiative called JAPAKI (Jansenville, Addo, Paterson, Alicedale and Kirkwood) bursary scheme which was organised by Mr Mveleli Ncula, who was later joined by Mr Weza Moss and many others from the Uitenhage Volkswagen plant, many years ago, with an attempt to alleviate poverty and provide financial assistance to young and deserving students from these rural areas. There are hundreds of students whose lives were never the same since this initiative started and that paved the way for us to be able to feed our families and keep the fires burning.
Watching these players interacting with the tournament ambassadors Dean Furman, Andile Dlamini and Dludlu was priceless and will certainly go a long way in motivating them in their careers. Thanks, Volkswagen, for changing lives! We need more of such community-involved initiatives from the corporate world so that we impact our people’s lives.
On a different note, Soccer Laduma male readers, let’s remember to turn the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence to a 365-day event. Let’s lead the way to ensure the safety of our women and children.