On 8 June 2010, just three days before the 2010 World Cup began in South Africa, an international partnership made a compelling case for soccer as an agent of social change. International philanthropist and entrepreneur Bobby Sager and his friend Sting rolled out their newest project, Hope is a Game-Changer, which will commence delivery of 10,000 indestructible soccer balls to six countries in Africa combined with the start of Grassroot Soccer’s (GRS) campaign to reach 1 million youth by the start of the World Cup in 2014.

Fittingly, the event was also a graduation celebration for 110 at-risk girls who have completed the GRS Skillz Street curriculum and held at the Football for Hope Centre, Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Ethan Zohn, the American soccer commentator, Survivor winner and co-founder of GRS who has very recently won a battle with Hodgkins disease, also attended the celebration.

In 2009, Sager joined forces with Sting and inventors Tim Jahnigen and Kevin McCarthy to help develop a soccer ball that can withstand anything. Sting and Sager started Hope Is A Game-Changer, funded in part through proceeds from Sager’s book “The Power of the Invisible Sun”, to deliver these balls to children in some of the toughest locations around the world. The ball itself is a symbol of hope – it’s impervious to wear, UV, water chemicals and puncture. According to Sager, “Hope is the most important thing that people need to move forward. The slightest ray of hope can ignite the human spirit’s ability to overcome: the power of the invisible sun.” But this project is not about charity. In line with Sager’s philosophy that there are no handouts, every child needs to earn a ball so Hope is a Game-Changer partners with organizations like GRS which teach life skills and develop team dynamics. Kirk Friedrich, MD and co-founder of GRS commented that “Grassroot Soccer is thrilled to partner with Hope is a Game-Changer to protect and improve the lives of young people around the world. Both organizations focus on developing and implementing innovative strategies to use sport as a tool for social change.”

The Skillz Street league has been a great success so far and the girls are eager to come back each week to participate and complete the program. According to Friedrich, “Skillz Street targets the most marginalized, neglected, and at risk population in Khayelitsha – teenage girls – by providing them with a safe environment where they can learn valuable life skills and experience the joys of soccer.” After visiting the FFHC during Skillz Street, Don MacKinnon from NIKE (RED) described the program as “the happiest thing I have ever seen.” To Sager “women and girls are the backbone of families and societies around the world. To unlock their potential would be truly game-changing.”

Sager presented balls, not available elsewhere in the world, and certificates to the girls.

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