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Photos by Jason Larkin

Soweto Soccer Style

With just hours to go until the World Cup starts, Dazed Digital meets Nike CEO Mark Parker at a new football training facility in Soweto

Young footballers in Soweto, South Africa have been given a boost with the opening of a world class training facility in the township. The centre, created by sports brand Nike, boasts state of the arts amenities that include four pitches, a club house decorated in various football team jerseys, athletic apparel, pictures of football stars and inspirational quotes from the stars that can be seen all over the walls throughout the centre. Individual changing rooms are all themed around an Elite Nike partner club including Manchester United and local Premier League team Kaiser Chiefs. Every year 20,000 youngsters will be given an opportunity to develop their skills and will also be given access to expert training by internationally renowned South African footballers like Eric Tinkler and Shaun Bartlett. Beyond football, the centre aims to educate young people about HIV/Aids through life skills programmes. A permanent blood testing clinic has been set up at the premises, which follows Nike’s partnership with (RED) through the “Lace Up, Save Lives” campaign.

At the opening, two days ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2010 kick-off at Soccer City stadium (which is not far from Soweto), some of the young footballers who stand to benefit from this program could be seen in action as they were given training in the basics of the beautiful game. Seventeen year-old Mohaenoe Molehe, who now trains at the facility, said he had seen nothing like what was on offer at the centre. “We have facilities but there’s a lot here that we can’t get from where we usually train. The method of training will help me to achieve professionalism,” he added. Molehe, like the other boys and girls at the centre, said he expected to gain experience and learn to become a disciplined sportsman through the program. “In two years time I hope to be playing for Kaiser Chiefs in the PSL.” Other boys were more ambitious, like 15 year old Lala Ntsoane, who said his dream was to play in England and for the South African national squad.

“It’s a great facility and we have access to international experts,” said 18 year-old Thabang Mokhoali. This initiative is aimed at creating a lasting legacy for the Soweto community and forms part of Nike’s contribution and commitment to global sports. We spoke to Nike Inc’s President and CEO, Mark Parker, about the facility and Nike’s relationship with global communities.

Dazed Digital: What is your impression of the township of Soweto?
Mark Parker: It’s my first time here. I think this facility here is amazing and I’m incredibly proud of what’s come together in the past five, six months. So, that’s one of my first impressions coming here. And looking at the larger community and how I think this will be used by everybody, I’m proud of the fact that this will be a real legacy for Soweto.

DD: What’s the motivation, for Nike, behind these sorts of initiatives?
Mark Parker: Nike has been in South Africa since ’94 and it’s important to us- it’s part of doing business anywhere- to be a part of the community and to give back, in this case; supporting the Soweto community, which is the hub of football in South Africa and Africa. This is a place where kids can come, a place not only for football but also life training skills. I feel that that’s what’s more important; a place where kids can realise their potential. That’s what we’re all about as a company; trying to realise our full potential as a company and allowing others to do the same. I like to think that when we help an athlete or a person realise their potential we can do the same in that process.

DD: Beyond football, what kind of impact do you wish for this project to make on this community?
Mark Parker: Obviously football and life skills are an important part of this facility. There’s a place where you can come and get tested for HIV/Aids and receive counselling. I think that’s important. I think that in sports you develop as an athlete but you also develop as a person and this is a chance to really connect those things. When you’re an athlete you learn discipline, you set goals and reach goals. You also learn how to work within a team. Those are things that these kids can carry over in life towards success and realising their potential.

DD: Looking at these kids today do you believe this is what’s been achieved?
Mark Parker: This is just day one but I see a lot of potential for that. I’m full of hope and optimism that this will be used by many kids and teams and that it will provide the training and the hope that I think kids need. This is a place where kids can become better people. So, yeah, I’m very excited about it.

DD: Having handed over the facilities to the local authorities and the community, does Nike have measures in place to ensure that this facility serves the purpose it is meant for?
Mark Parker: Yes, that’s important for us. We’re not just opening a facility, handing it over and wishing everybody luck. I think it’s important that we are connected with the local community officials and the government officials. You saw the mayor was here today, the health minister was here, the South African Football Association, Grassroots Soccer (which is an important part of this)... These are all important parts of making this a success beyond the opening. It has to be sustained. We want to develop the program to make it even richer and more impactful. We talked this morning about maybe adding nutrition into some of the skills training. So, our hope is not just to sustain it but to develop it into something that has even more impact.

DD: Are you looking at extending the program elsewhere in South Africa or even the continent?
Mark Parker: Well, we’re looking at expanding the program not only in Africa but all over the world. One of our greatest commitments as a company is to provide the youth with the opportunity to participate in sports. You’re going to see more and more programs, activities and partnerships from Nike to help youth participation in sports in the coming months. We’re deepening our commitment to that. We’ll learn a lot from this facility that will help advance that course.

DD: Tell us more about Nike’s relationship with Africa...
Mark Parker: We’ve been here since 1994 and Nike is all about sports. I think Africa is a continent that has a rich sporting culture and that’s what we’re all about as a company. So, that connection is very natural for us and we’re also very focused on developing potential and I know that’s what the continent is focused on. So, I think we can work hand in hand to develop together. There’s a great future ahead.

DD: We’re two days away from the commencement of the World Cup. Who do you think will win it?
Mark Parker: It would be great if it’s a team that Nike is connected with. I obviously wish for South Africa to do well. The US is in a good position. England is also in a good position. It should be a great match on Saturday (England versus USA), so I’m quite excited. 

Hurry up and buy the June issue of Dazed & Confused for our South Africa reportage on fashion, music and arts