Sport has the ability to unite rivals in a way which little else can.
In a big and diverse country like South Africa, which has in recent years endured the scourge of hatred against foreign nationals, it can play a huge role in promoting social cohesion, nation building and mobilising citizens and communities against racism and xenophobia.
It is in that regard the Gauteng Province, which has been the epicentre of xenophobic violence, launched the second instalment of the Premier’s Social Cohesion Games.
The games are an initiative of the provincial government, the Hellenic Italian and Portuguese (HIP) Alliance and the Mmakau Group.
“There was never a more appropriate time to show the country how we can unite under the banner of football,” Gauteng Premier, David Makhura, said at the launch in Johannesburg.
“Football is a common denominator; in Gauteng, on the continent and in turn the world over. It transcends all differences and serves to remind us that we have a lot more in common, than what divides us,” the premier added.
The 2018 edition has already kicked off with coaches from the Italian Serie A and European Champions League contenders, AS Roma, holding clinics for children and coaches in Ennerdale, Randfontein and Alexandra in the last weekend of March.
This coming weekend, a congregation of nationalities, football legends, superstars, politicians and celebrities will club together in an effort to denounce xenophobia and racism.
Footballers from Cameroon, South Africa and Zimbabwe will participate.
The games have attracted almost 4 000 participants including players over 35 years, from diverse races, denominations and nationalities, playing seven-a-side social football from across 11 regions of Gauteng.
The Last 16 stage will be held at the Westbury Stadium on Sunday, with the ultimate final scheduled for the Ace Ntsoelengoe Stadium in Randfontein on Sunday.
The final will see 18 teams participating with nine matches to be played.
Six ladies teams will also participate.
There will also be a “Gogos match”, where two senior citizens female teams will participate as well as the Premiers Exhibition Game, featuring the premier and former players and celebrities.
Faith Mazibuko, Gauteng head of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture, said social cohesion was one of the key drivers of the change needed in South Africa.
“Through football we can play our part in achieving this,” Mazibuko said.
Maurizio Mariano, tournament convener and Chairperson of the Italian section of the HIP Alliance, said together with the African Diaspora Forum, the Hellenic, Portuguese, Chinese, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu Association communities, they had put together the most diverse group of people in one event.
“Through these games we will, in a small but significant way, assist in unifying our province,” Mariano said. - CAJ News Africa South Africa Bureau