By Haley Wigglesworth, Senior Business Development Coordinator

This year, Grassroot Soccer (GRS) celebrates a decade of partnership with FIFA along with the 10th year anniversary of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Grassroot Soccer’s partnership with FIFA through our local affiliates in South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and across Sub-Saharan Africa, has been catalytic in delivering game-changing health and life skills programs and providing community-based services for thousands of young people each year.

Creating Safe and Accessible Youth Friendly Spaces for Over a Decade
FIFA Football for Hope Centers in South Africa and Zimbabwe, legacy projects of the 2010 World Cup, have given GRS a home in some of the most high-risk communities in Africa – creating a safe, accessible space to deliver programs and drive better adolescent health and life outcomes through sport.

Grassroot Soccer’s work in Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town, and partnership with FIFA began in 2009 with the opening of the Khayelitsha FIFA Football for Hope Center, the first legacy project of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Two years later in 2012, the opening of the Alexandra FIFA Football for Hope Center catalyzed Grassroot Soccer’s work in Alexandra, a township in Johannesburg. We have since directly reached nearly 100,000 young people and tested over 10,000 individuals for HIV through the Football for Hope Centers in Khayelitsha and Alexandra, and worked with more than 200 local schools, making a massive contribution to the health and positive development of young people in South Africa through a medium they know and love.

“I am because the FIFA Football For Hope Center in Khayelitsha was. In the midst of poverty and crime in my community, I have gained my independence and freedom through support and coaching from GRS.” – GRS participant graduate, South Africa

Grassroot Soccer has also been the custodian of the FIFA Football for Hope Center in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe since it opened in 2012 and utilizes the Center as a safe, productive space for the delivery of soccer-based sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) education and services, reaching approximately 33,000 young people in Zimbabwe per year. The FIFA Football for Hope Centers are uniquely infused with Grassroot Soccer’s youth-friendly and sport-based culture, while providing accessible spaces to build youth health and life skills knowledge and confidence, access SRHR services, and facilitate healthy community development for young people to thrive.

Beyond FIFA Football for Hope Centers in South Africa and Zimbabwe, GRS partners with FIFA through its local affiliate in Zambia, reaching over a thousand young people per year, as well as through local implementing partners like Kick4Life in Lesotho and Iringa Development of Youth Disabled and Children’s Care (IDYDC) in Tanzania, who both host Football for Hope Centers through the FIFA 2010 Legacy Trust and are long-term implementing partners of GRS.

Harnessing the Power of Sport to Promote Gender Equality
Grassroot Soccer’s partnership with FIFA across geographies is foundational to driving positive health outcomes and promoting gender equality in the communities we serve. For many girls in GRS programs, playing soccer for the first time allows them to flip the script on traditional norms and stereotypes and provides an outlet to develop confidence, leadership skills, and deepen social support networks. GRS programs have shown that female graduates are 100% more likely to credit sport with increased self-esteem, and GRS has found physical, activity-based language makes sensitive health concepts such as HIV, sex, and gender accessible and non-threatening.

“Support from FIFA has gone a long way in giving young girls the opportunity to play soccer at our Bulawayo FIFA Football for Hope Center and debunk cultural norms that made them believe soccer is a boys-only sport.” – Training Officer, GRS Zimbabwe

More than 10 years of partnership with FIFA has also catalyzed Grassroot Soccer’s work with adolescent boys and young men who need effective interventions to improve their health, transform gender norms, and end sexual and gender-based violence, but are often difficult to reach. The Football for Hope Centers deepen Grassroot Soccer’s partnerships with key structures, such as national and local soccer associations, allowing us to reach men and boys at scale. They also support community engagement through events like the recent Grassroot Soccer Equalize! Tournament in Khayelitsha in partnership with Swedish Postcode Foundation, which featured 2X World Cup Champions Christen Press and Tobin Heath and promoted positive gender norms among boys.

“I love being at this tournament because of the life skills lessons GRS provides. I am now confident to share with females at the training and at school on HIV/AIDS and sexuality.” – A Male GRS Participant at a FIFA-supported Football Festival in Zambia

Building a Network of Community-Based Change Agents
Beyond providing physical safe spaces through the Centers, GRS creates a fun and supportive culture for learning through mentorship that creates an engaging and safe atmosphere for youth to speak openly and gain knowledge to make better health and life decisions. With over 12,500 Coaches trained to date, GRS has built a network of community-based change agents and role models trained in Grassroot Soccer’s sport-based and youth-centered methodology and to support youth to navigate the health system. GRS not only views Coaches as key implementers, but as the next generation of young leaders and influencers in their communities and beyond.

“Throughout my years of being a GRS Coach, it has been a privilege being part of the GRS family and working directly from the FIFA Football for Hope Center in Alexandra. The partnership between FIFA and GRS has given me the opportunity to build a community of change agents.” – GRS Coach, South Africa

Looking Ahead: Hubs for Innovation and Community Engagement
Grassroot Soccer looks forward to continuing to build on the legacy of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and over 10 years of partnership with FIFA. In the years to come, we are committed to partnering with FIFA and utilizing Football for Hope Centers as safe, youth-friendly centers of excellence and innovation hubs to develop and test cutting edge sport-based adolescent health programming and amplify the voices of youth and their communities.