Share this article

The Soweto Nike Football Centre does more than teach youngsters the game, though it does that well. They are also taught life skills.
THE Soweto Nike Football Centre is more than just a sporting facility. Here, dreams are realised, potential is unleashed and community ties are strengthened.

An aerial view of the Nike Centre in KlipspruitAn aerial view of the Soweto Nike Football Centre in KlipspruitOn weekend mornings, the centre, on the corner of Chris Hani and Mokoena streets in Klipspruit, is flooded with youngsters who dream of breaking into professional soccer and adults who play football to keep fit.

Of the four well-kept green football pitches, two are artificial turf and two are natural lawn. Towering over each field are big lights. When lit up at night they distinguish the centre from the humble houses surrounding it.

It was officially opened by the former mayor of Joburg, Amos Masondo, on 10 June 2010, a day before the FIFA World Cup began in the city. The centre has helped the football careers of many young players in Soweto. The region itself is often seen as the power house of South African football, having produced a galaxy of soccer stars – among them Jomo Sono, Kaizer Motaung and Doctor Khumalo.

More than 20 000 young footballers used the facility for football training, both technical and life skills, between 9 June 2010 and 1 June 2011, according to Seruscka Naidoo, the communications manager of Nike South Africa, the owners of the centre. Most of them are aged between 16 and 19. On average each football activity has been attended by 250 participants.

Talent scouts
So successful has the centre been in grooming youngsters, that it has become a hunting ground for scouters. Testimony to its success are the 12 young footballers who were scouted by professional teams such as Super Sport United and Orlando Pirates.

In another notable success, two youngsters won a full year contract with Nike Academy in the United Kingdom.

These players were scouted through tournaments such as Discovery Walter Sisulu Challenge, where four players were selected to join PSL teams; four more were selected during the Under 16 Juniors; and the Under 18 Football League led to the rise of one star.

The Nike Centre host several soccer tournaments, including the annual Mayoral CupThe centre host several soccer tournaments, including the annual Mayoral CupThe centre also hosted the 2011 Joburg Mayoral Cup, were under 17 boys and under 15 girls teams affiliated to the Joburg Local Football Association competed with some of the PSL development teams. They included the Kaizer Chiefs and Bidvest Wits development teams. Hidden talent was exposure at this tournament, with a team from Orange Farm winning the cup.

But the centre’s mandate does not start and end with developing soccer careers. It also strives to become agent of social change, through teaching life skills to young footballers.

One such initiative aimed at empowering young people socially, is Nike’s Grassroot project. The sports company has partnered with other NGOs on the project, including Right to Care, Soweto Football Association and Sport for Social Change Network.

Grassroot has two sides – on and off field development. Off field, a variety of social ills are tackled, with a particular focus on HIV and Aids. One of the issues is the social exclusion experienced by children living with the disease. The project educates the children about eating healthily and the importance of regular exercise.

If offers support systems to HIV-vulnerable children, and it gives them a sense of hope, belonging and inclusion by integrating them into football teams where they have the freedom to play with their peers. In addition, role models and sports starts are regularly invited to encourage youngsters to break the silence and stigma around HIV and Aids.

Information on the virus is readily available and can be accessed at the in-house Wellness Centre and HIV testing facility. Free and confidential HIV/Aids testing and counselling and education programmes are available.

On field, the project offers young footballers technical skills development. Former professional players and current coaches form part of the team of experts who help young footballers to master the fundamentals of the game.

The centre won an awardWood-strip cladding adorns the outside of the centreHuge resources have been injected into the project. Apart from the dedicated teams per NGO, each team has access to professional and qualified nurses and counsellors. So far, Grassroot Soccer has educated more than 270 000 youth.

Environmentally friendly
The rectangular shaped Soweto Nike Football Centre is an inspiration for young footballers. The reception area is decorated with autographed soccer boots, T-shirts and pictures of teams sponsored by Nike. Among the signatures are Fenomeno Ronaldo of Brazil, and world number one footballer Lionel Messi. Also in the reception area are 10 Apple Mac computers for visitors’ use.

On the walls of the changing rooms are inspirational quotes themed around Nike’s sponsored teams such Manchester United, Arsenal, Barcelona, Inter-Milan, Boca Juniors and Kaizer Chiefs.

The centre has a fully equipped gymnasium with open viewing over the playing fields, and separate physiotherapy, first aid and treatment rooms.

In building the centre, environmentally friendly materials were employed. On the outside it is covered with wood-strip cladding, adorned with the Nike logo, which protects the interior from the sun yet lets in an appropriate amount of light. Recycled rubber was used on the surfaces around the building. It consumes less electricity and the changing rooms are fitted with solar panels for heating water.

For these outstanding features the building has become a marvel in the township. It also won the Gauteng Institute for Architecture Merit Award GIFA for 2011. In the same year, it made it to the shortlist of the World Building of the Year Awards.

Related stories:

Battle for world finals place
Rocco Barocco are the champs
Football academy opens
Mayoral Cup is a success
Cup boosts school soccer
Developing Joburg youth through basketball
Developing soccer stars in Alex