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Scoring a goal for child rights



As the World Cup in South Africa reaches its climax, Hugh Reilly looks at how UNICEF is using football to promote and protect children’s rights around the world.

The Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein is quite literally bouncing. It’s 50 minutes into the Group A decider and the 2010 World Cup hosts, South Africa, lead France 2-0. Soweto born winger Siphiwe Tshabalala threads an inch-perfect pass to his unmarked teammate Katlego Mphela, who shapes to shoot just outside the six-yard box.

A nation holds its breath.

Mphela’s shot bends round the French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris – but, agonisingly, the ball smacks the outside of the post and bounces harmlessly out of play. The 1998 World Cup winners soon pull a goal back through Franck Ribery and South Africa’s slim hopes of progressing to the last 16 are dashed.

The Bafana Bafana’s dream of World Cup glory may have fallen at the first hurdle, but the power of football as a force for good in countries like South Africa is getting stronger all the time – with or without the World Cup.  


Tsepho (far left) plays after school with his teammates on the rough field behind their school.
© UNICEF South Africa/2010/Hearfield
Tsepho (far left) plays after school with his teammates on the rough field behind their school.

Meet 14-year-old Tshepo Mashego. Tsepho lives in the township of Thubelihle outside Witbank, which lies on the high veld in the north-east of South Africa. His local high school is dilapidated. Most of its windows have been broken or vandalized. Until recently there was no sport at his school. But that changed with the arrival of Lebo Mtshweng.

Lebo works as a volunteer with SCORE, an organisation which works with UNICEF to help community development through sport.

“My friends and I love football,” says Tsepho, who along with his friends made a clearing in the long grass to create a football pitch. “Sport makes my friends and I feel fit and strong and it helps us in many areas of our lives. When I’m playing football I have to concentrate to get past the defenders, and this has taught me how to concentrate in the classroom.”

Football has also helped keep Tsepho’s contemporaries out of trouble. “My friend Kenneth is three years older and plays football too,” says Tsepho. He knows many boys that he grew up with who have ended up using alcohol and drugs. Football has given me a sense of purpose and helped me stay away from trouble. Our coach encourages us to play soccer and he guides us in life.”


Sports coordinator Lebo discusses the benefits of sport.
© UNICEF South Africa/2010/Hearfield
Sports coordinator Lebo discusses the benefits of sport.

The right to play

Sport and play are important to UNICEF because they are vital elements in the health, happiness and well-being of children and young people. As detailed in article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), sport and play are a child’s right.

As Tsepho’s story demonstrates, playing football, and sport in general, is about more than just exercise. It can also be an effective tool to help achieve goals in education, health, gender equality, HIV and AIDS, child protection and child development.

In Zambia, for example, where only around a third of 15 to 19 year olds are able to correctly identify ways of preventing HIV, UNICEF has provided sports coaches with innovative teaching which helps them empower young people to develop healthy lifestyles so they can reduce their risk of infection.



For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230,
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806,