What’s the connection between children kicking a ball around a hard-packed dirt soccer field in Cape Town and the South African city’s Premier Soccer League?
Vancouver writer Matthew Yeoman believes the two share a link through the charitable and club organizations that use sport as a form of development and soccer as a way to strengthen the social network, reward personal accountability and elevate health outcomes as well as produce international superstars.
“The greatest link that I find myself reading about again and again is that involvement in these programs gives individuals leadership skills that translate into the rest of their lives,” he wrote to the Courier. “Building these people up, one at time, can build up the society around them. There is also the aspect of teamwork and community building that these programs instill in those it touches.”
Instead of volunteering with one of the many associations concentrated in Cape Town alone, Yeoman decided to try and piece together the bigger picture. He is writing a book tentatively titled Soccer and Societal Development in Africa: A Profile and is crowd-sourcing funds for his project.
He has never travelled to Africa but using a crowd-sourcing online fundraiser, IndiGoGo, to raise money in order to visit and interview sports leaders around the continent and live in South Africa, the host for the 29th annual Africa Cup of Nations in January and February.
The “white man’s burden” line of thinking has long insisted that outsiders can help those believed unable to help themselves, but development through sport is different than many failed forms of charity directed at African nations, said Yeoman. He seeks to understand how the best of these soccer development programs serve their members and write about their successes and failures as a lesson to others, including North Americans interested in volunteering.
“The best programs, in my research so far, do not offer aid but instead offer assistance in the way of teaching life skills, real world skills, and the offering of opportunity. This allows those involved to take ownership for their success and to use their knowledge to help others who they teach,” said Yeoman, who has contributed to the Whitecaps website.
Programs run by North Americans are plentiful, including one set up by a past winner of the reality television mainstay Survivor to use soccer as a means to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Another kind of example is set by professional clubs such as Mathare United F.C. of the Kenyan Premier League which operates in one of Nairobi’s most deprived and dangerous slums and runs the respected Mathare Youth Sports Association that has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Yeoman also points out Ajax Cape Town F.C., which operates programs in more than 100 schools (known as the Community Scheme) and promotes local talent to the first team thought its successful development program.