SAfrica launches first Football for Hope center

South African authorities have started building a new Football for Hope center ? the first of 20 planned around the continent as part of a 2010 World Cup campaign to combat AIDS, poverty and crime and to uplift local communities that live far away from flashy stadiums.

The center in the problem-plagued township of Khayelitsha will include a football pitch, community center and after-school facilities. It will focus on spreading sexual education and AIDS prevention messages in an area where teenage pregnancy is the norm and more than 30 percent of pregnant women are infected with the AIDS virus.

The project is part of FIFA’s “20 Centers for 2010” campaign to build facilities in South Africa, Mali, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Namibia and other African nations. The world football body in alliance with streetfootballworld ? a network of development groups ? is backing the program to the tune of about $10 million as part of its corporate social responsibility program.

“This campaign emphasizes the power of football far beyond the boundaries of the pitch,” FIFA President Joseph Blatter said in a statement Monday. “These Football for Hope centers will provide a platform for communities to address social issues such as children’s rights, education, health, HIV/AIDS prevention, and will leave a legacy for Africa that will last long after the final whistle of the 2010 FIFA World Cup has been blown.”

FIFA expects to earn $3.2 billion in television and marketing revenue from the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

South African organizing chief Danny Jordaan joined local politicians and football fans at Monday’s sod turning ceremony and spoke of his dreams that the center would nurture future national and international football stars.

“The World Cup is more than football, it’s more than 90 minutes, it’s about how we create a lasting legacy,” said Jordaan.

Khayelitsha is about 15 minutes drive from central Cape Town but world’s apart from the swanky new stadium being built with panoramic views of the glistening Atlantic coastline, Nelson Mandela’s former prison on Robben Island and the iconic Table Mountain.

The sprawling suburb is home to some of South Africa’s worst slums clinging precariously to slopes near the highway across the road from the airport. Many of the township’s estimated half million residents struggle to pay the bus fare into town and even the cheapest World Cup ticket is way beyond reach.

Alcohol abuse is rampant in a community wracked by unemployment and hopelessness. Murder, armed robbery and child abuse are common.

The center is being constructed on rehabilitated marshland which was often used by local criminals to rape their victims and to dump corpses.

“It used to be one of the most dangerous places in Khayelitsha,” said Helen Zille, premier of the Western Cape province. “It shows what we can do when we focus on getting things right rather than concentrating on what’s wrong.”

She said she hoped it would succeed in getting through AIDS prevention messages where government efforts have failed. More than 1,000 South Africans are newly infected every day with the AIDS virus because ? despite prolonged prevention campaigns ? people continue to have multiple partners and don’t bother to use condoms.

“Please see this as an opportunity to have fun, grow and be a child and do things children are meant to do and not become premature adults,” Zille said.

The center will be run by Grassroots Soccer which uses football to educate youth about HIV and AIDS. Cape Town authorities provided the land for the center as part of a violence prevention and urban upgrade program, which also is backed by Germany’s government.

Nocawe Tyali, who teaches football and life skills to 12 to 14 year olds, said the new center would make a huge difference in an area with few other after-school facilities. She said it would give teens an alternative to casual sex, alcohol and petty crime, and enable coaches to run more programs demonstrating that it is possible to tackle the AIDS virus and drug abuse just as it is to tackle a football.

“Soccer is life. Your talent is life. Your talent is your future,” she said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.