On November 30, the Grassroot Soccer (GRS) community came together at Lindley Hall in London for GRS’s Ninth Annual World AIDS Day Gala and raised almost $2 million for GRS! Featuring celebrities and high-profile individuals from the worlds of sport, entertainment, and global health, the evening focused on the theme of mental health – the most critical health issue facing young people globally, and one that affects other urgent health challenges, including HIV/AIDS.

The program started with a special welcome message from footballing icon David Beckham OBE, who also donated a signed Lionel Messi jersey that raised $15,000 for GRS as part of the evening’s silent auction. “I’ve been a longtime supporter of this incredible organization that is using the game that we love so much to change lives,” Beckham said. “Tonight we will celebrate the impact that Grassroot Soccer is having on young people — especially their mental health and well-being, which is essential to becoming your best self and achieving all you can aspire to.”


During the evening, GRS honored the television series Ted Lasso and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) for their respective impact on mental health with the Game-Changer Award. 

Kola Bokinni, Billy Harris, Brendan Hunt, and Gregg Lemkau

Ted Lasso was recognized for leveraging the power of soccer to raise awareness about mental health, reduce stigma, and celebrate mental well-being. Ted Lasso stars Brendan Hunt (Coach Beard), Kola Bokinni (Isaac McAdoo), and Billy Harris (Colin Hughes) appeared on stage on behalf of the show to accept the award, which was presented by former GRS Global Board Chair Gregg Lemkau. Fellow cast members Phil Dunster (Jamie Tartt), Cristo Fernandez (Dani Rojas), and Nick Mohammed (Nate Shelley) shared video thank you messages over video, and 2022 GRS Gala Host Seth Meyers appeared on screen to offer his congratulations to the cast and crew as well.

“All of us at Ted Lasso are proud of the way the show has lifted up and normalized important conversations about mental health, and we have all been moved by the way these messages have resonated with so many fans and viewers,” Hunt said. “It is truly an honor to have that recognized by an organization like Grassroot Soccer that is doing such critical mental health work directly with young people.”

“GRS is doing an amazing job,” Bokinni said in his speech. “They’re creating a dynamic that basically says, ‘It’s okay to not be okay.’” 

“Grassroot Soccer is such a special organization to me,” Fernandez shared in his message. “Football is all about joy, and I’m so inspired by the way Grassroot Soccer uses the joy and fun of football to teach kids important lessons about mental and physical health.”

SNF was honored for their global commitment to mental health, with GRS Global Board Member Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (former UN Women Executive Director and Deputy President of South Africa) presenting the award on stage. SNF has provided foundational and transformational support for GRS’s mental health work in Africa, including the development of MindSKILLZ, GRS’s signature mental health promotion and prevention program for adolescents.

“The genius of [GRS’s] approach is in harnessing the skills soccer fosters — perseverance, self-awareness and self-discipline, and, most importantly, team spirit — to help ensure [youth] can live healthy lives, physically and mentally. We are very proud and honored to be able to support this great effort,” said SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos in a personal message read on stage by Programs Co-Director Casey Russo and Program Officer Aurélie Avice, who accepted the award on the Foundation’s behalf.

Stories from the Field

June Sarpong, Kunda Mwitwa, Christen Press, and Tobin Heath

Highlights of the evening also included an intimate conversation between Gala Host June Sarpong OBE, GRS Global Board Member and Ambassador Christen Press, GRS Global Ambassador Tobin Heath (both two-time World Cup winners with the U.S. Women’s National Team), and Kunda Mwitwa, a GRS Zambia staff member and former GRS SKILLZ Coach and participant. Press and Heath recently returned from a visit to Lusaka, where they spent several days with the GRS team, including Kunda, and program participants, seeing the work firsthand.

“We were met with joy, celebration, smiles, and laughter,” Press said when recalling the time she and Heath spent during their trip with participants in GRS’s SKILLZ Plus program for youth living with HIV. “Grassroot Soccer creates a space where young people are able to be optimistic and hopeful in the face of great challenge.”

“The Coaches are really caring mentors, and my Coach showed interest in me beyond just the SKILLZ program,” Mwitwa said when discussing her journey with GRS. “Fast forward, I joined as a SKILLZ Coach and then I became the mentor that I wanted to be…I’m really proud to be part of this great organization that gives opportunities to young people, because really there is no Grassroot Soccer without the Coaches.”

“There are these bright yellow shirts that the Coaches wear,” Heath added. “When they put on this yellow jersey, they’re representing their communities, their families, and they’re making a massive impact.”

GRS Global Board Member and Gala Co-Chair Fiona Ferguson, Founder and CEO Dr. Tommy Clark, and Co-Founder Ethan Zohn also delivered remarks about the organization’s impact during the night.

“We know the health of a young person is not limited to just one disease, or one issue,” said Zohn. “We also know that using a sport you love — combined with fun, friends, safe spaces, and mentors — is a simple, yet effective way to save lives. That is the Grassroot Soccer difference.”

Dr. Tommy Clark

“I remember in the early days, we were working with a thousand kids a year,” Clark said. “Today, we’ve achieved more than I ever expected, working with millions of kids a year through many, many partners, but we’ve only scratched the surface.”

There was fierce bidding in the evening’s live auction. Among the hottest prizes of the night were a Manchester United matchday experience with Sir Alex Ferguson and a week’s holiday at the Xarraca Estate in Northern Ibiza. The evening also included a silent auction featuring experiences and prizes provided by Adidas, Ferrari, Ed Sheeran, Siya Kolisi, Jack Whitehall, and more celebrities and brands. 

Following the program, attendees celebrated the evening and danced the night away, guided by DJs HALE ZERO and GALLiVANTER.

GRS is overwhelmed with gratitude for our global community of supporters and all who contributed to an unforgettable evening. Your generosity makes it possible for our inspiring Coaches to continue having an impact in their communities. THANK YOU!