Fifa teaches youngsters life skills

THE little girl zigzags between plastic cones with a football, hardly obstructed by her pink tulle dress as she attempts to master the game, as well as life lessons from her coach.

THE little girl zigzags between plastic cones with a football, hardly obstructed by her pink tulle dress as she attempts to master the game, as well as life lessons from her coach.

As Sinethemba, 6, grasps football skills with other children, their trainers impart crucial points that range from the importance of a healthy diet to the dangers of unprotected sex for the varying ages from five to 15 years old.

South Africa has been seized by football fever ahead of the 2010 World Cup, and Fifa is making the most of a sport loved by children to attract them into the "Football for Hope" programme in SA's poorest townships.

Every Monday afternoon after school, children in the heart of Johannesburg's oldest shantytown - Alexandra - take part in the unconventional training where the message includes boys being encouraged to respect their female partners. This is a crucial message in South Africa, where a quarter of men admit to having raped at least once in their lifetime, according to a study conducted in August.

"If a father at home is sexually abusing a little girl she's got to be able to stand up for herself and say I was taught on the field today you're not supposed to do that. You're my father and I respect you but no, this is my body," said Sibulele Sibaca, the programme director of Play Soccer SA.

Coach Catherine Khosana, an 18-year-old who is still in high school, said the goal was to keep children off the street while teaching them to respect each other and take care of themselves.

"For cultural reasons, we had to convince the parents that it will be to the benefit of their daughters. We told them it is not for soccer only, it is about how to have a healthy lifestyle." - Sapa-AFP

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