September 10, 2009
Speaker tells how soccer quells African violence
SUNY Cortland sport management students find sport energizes South African youth
Khayelitsha township outside Cape Town, South Africa, is a place of violence and despair where youth soccer has made a difference.
Ryan McGonigle, an American just out of college a year ago, created soccer tournaments to keep boys and young men off the streets and away from crime. He got help from a group of these young men, who sensed a chance to help their community.
“The police don’t have statistics for us yet, but everywhere I go, people stop me to say how much the tournaments have done,” McGonigle told about 35 SUNY Cortland sport management students Wednesday at Studio West.
McGonigle, a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College, was the guest of Kevin Heisey, a sport management professor who has researched sport in South Africa.
The department has degree programs and courses that emphasize the worldwide aspect of sport. Several of the students at Wednesday’s presentation were from outside the U.S.
McGonigle was a volunteer intern sponsored by Grassroot Soccer, a nonprofit foundation created by former professional soccer players and Ethan Zohn, winner of the CBS reality show “Survivor Africa.” The foundation uses soccer to educate Africans about preventing HIV and AIDS.
McGonigle learned to be an educator about HIV. But he also was in Khayelitsha to coordinate the building of Chris Campbell Memorial Field, an artificial turf soccer stadium named for his college friend and soccer teammate, who collapsed and died while training for his senior season.
Franklin and Marshall alumni and athletes raised money for the stadium and worked with Khayelitsha because Campbell hoped to visit South Africa.
The stadium measures 87 feet by 50 feet and has artificial turf, a rarity in Africa. It is located at a primary school surrounded by dirt roads and shacks, according to news stories about it.
CTCTen Foundation, started by Campbell’s family, will pay for McGonigle to remain in the township this year. He has been home on vacation since July and will return later this month.
McGonigle and fellow members of Grassroot Soccer created soccer tournaments with the help of local schools and the township’s “futbol” association. The boys who took part had lessons in life skills, avoiding violence and treating women with respect.
The key element was a group of 12 men, ages 20 to 30, recruited away from the bars and street corners where they spent their days.
“The townships surrounding Cape Town have a high murder rate, high unemployment, a lot of drinking,” McGonigle said. “You can’t go anywhere after dark, it’s so dangerous. We wanted to fight that.”
He said these men saw a chance to do something for their community and to improve their own lives.
The Ambitious Youth of Khayelitsha, as they called themselves, decided to have a 24-hour soccer event with three tournaments: 12 under-10 boys’ teams, 15 under-16 boys’ teams and 32 open men’s teams. For one Friday night, soccer would bring the township’s males away from the crime and violence.
The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime was a sponsor. The event drew coverage from CNN, ESPN and African news organizations.
The soccer players marked each awards ceremony with traditional dancers and music.
“You guys are in college, you know Friday and Saturday nights are for partying, but in this place, a few people will die on those nights,” McGonigle told the students.
The Ambitious Youth have been learning how to dress and act for job interviews and career development, have explored soccer as an instrument for economic development, and have begun working with tourism as South Africa prepares to host the World Cup this summer.
McGonigle said there are women’s soccer programs too but only during the day. The stadium hosts field hockey tournaments as well.
“This whole thing was just an idea in some people’s minds two years ago,” Heisey said. “It’s a great example.”
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe