THOUSANDS of miles away from Zimbabwe, Arsenal and French legend Robert Pirès can’t wait for Southern Region Division One side Bantu Rovers to be promoted to the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League.
REPORT BY OUR SPORTS EDITOR
Well, one might wonder what the real connection here is!
On January 17 2012, Pirès became an ambassador for Grassroot Soccer (GRS), an international non-profit organisation that uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilise communities to stop the spread of HIV.
Bantu Rovers are a project linked to GRS programme, headquartered in the United States and has numerous partners, who include Barclays Bank, Comic Relief, UNHCR, Major League Soccer of the US, De Beers, Castrol and global healthcare leader Merck.
The organisation was founded by Tommy Clark — who played football in Zimbabwe — and former Highlanders player and coach Methembe Ndlovu and their friends, and has affiliates across the world. Pirès and current Arsenal player Bacary Sagna are ambassadors.
In his tweet on his official account yesterday, Pirès, said: “Grassroot Soccer this weekend. One more win and they are in the Zimbabwe Premier League.”
Bantu have been in the Premiership before their relegation two years ago and their return bodes well with their mission
to take their projects to higher levels.
Some of the players involved in GRS include former Highlanders stars Gilbert Banda, Johannes Ngodzo, Mkhuphali Masuku and Mighty Warriors great Sithethelelwe “Kwinji 15” Sibanda.
Pires won three FA Cups and two FA Premier League titles, including being part of the club’s famous unbeaten season of 2003–2004 with Arsenal’s Invincibles. A former France international, Pirès earned 79 caps between 1996 and 2004 for his country, including winning both the 1998 Fifa World Cup and Uefa Euro 2000.
According to their profile on their website, Grassroot Soccer, Inc, became a registered 501(c) 3 charitable organisation in 2002. Clark conceived of the idea after having played soccer professionally in Zimbabwe where he witnessed first hand both the devastation of HIV and the fanatical popularity of soccer.
Together with a group of friends who had similar experiences, he and co-founders Ndlovu, Ethan Zohn and Kirk Friedrich, created GRS. The core group travelled to Zimbabwe in 2002 and with the support of advisory board member Albert Bandura, consultants and local stakeholders, developed and piloted an interactive soccer-themed HIV prevention curriculum that was first implemented in Zimbabwe in 2003.
After a positive independent evaluation of the project by The Children’s Health Council, a Stanford University affiliate group, GRS received a three-year programme grant in 2005 from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to expand its work.
In 2005, Friedrich and Ndlovu were recognised as co-founders for their commitment to the organisation.
Ndlovu rose from Luveve township in Bulawayo, to attend Dartmouth College — one of the premier universities in the US — and then returned to Zimbabwe where he won the league title with Highlanders in 2006.
Other players that have supported the initiative include former Warriors skipper Benjani Mwaruwari and national team midfielder Vusa Nyoni, who plays professional football in Belgium.
Ndlovu, who received the prestigious Martin Luther King (Jr) Social Justice Award from Dartmouth in 2010, is the president of Bantu, while Peter Grieve, who also sits on the board of Grassroots, is an honorary president.
The club’s nickname is “Tshintsha Guluva”, which translates to “A progressive way of doing things”.
The club’s mission is to offer the people (bantu) a team of professional footballers from every culture and background playing at the highest level, fuelled by a desire to give back to their communities through the world’s game.