With sponsorship from LaLiga, the community-based KwaMahlobo tournament has grown into an institution and this year attracted huge crowds hoping to spot the next star of African football. Working with grassroots initiatives, in partnership with local leagues, is a central part of LaLiga’s aim to help grow football around the world.
Every Christmas, the Soweto township of Johannesburg, South Africa is brought to a standstill by the KwaMahlobo games, a two-and-a-half-week amateur tournament with a difference.
Sponsored by LaLiga for the past three years, the tournament remains fiercely loyal to its grassroots identity, and is designed to bring communities together through healthy but intense competition.
This year 44 teams, including four female teams, registered to compete and prizes of food hampers were distributed to senior spectators, underlining the tournament's commitment to inclusivity. With added celebrity appearances and significant prizes on offer to the winners, the event has proved an enormous success over its 22-year history and this year attracted a crowd of 37,000 to the final.
Having an organised and entertaining spectacle such as this helps to create important bonds within a community that has suffered from years of conflict and still experiences one of the highest crime rates in South Africa. As most leisure time is spent outdoors, sport has proven a highly effective way to keep young people engaged during school holidays and away from a gang culture that still poses a threat.
For the players there is something still further on offer as an increasing number of talent scouts now attend the games. As word of the quality of the players spread this has led to a series of new discoveries. In its history, KwaMahlobo has helped to produce a string of iconic professional players including Siphiwe Tshabalala, the scorer of the unforgettable first goal of the South Africa 2010 World Cup.
With continued investment, the tourament has become a significant platform for new sporting talent and thereby a means to enrich local leagues and improve the quality of South African football overall.
So successful has it become, that this year the South African government became involved, investing in improvement to the playing pitches.
Antonio Barradas, director for LaLiga in Africa, said: "We are proud to have worked alongside the KwaMahlobo games to help it become one of the most anticipated events in the South African sporting calendar. The quality of this year's tournament is the best that I can remember and shows how investment in grassroots football contributes to player development as well as community empowerment. We are committed to replicating this success with the many other tournaments that we support across South Africa and the rest of the continent."
Patrick Ntenjwa, original founder of the KwaMahlobo games twenty-three years ago, added: "It has been an incredible tournament with outstanding displays of football and teamwork from day one. We are forever grateful for our strong partnership with LaLiga and SAFA, the games wouldn't have grown from strength to strength without their ongoing support." SAFA, the South African Football Association, is the national administrative governing body that controls the sport of football in South Africa.
In its work to grow football globally, LaLiga supports grassroots and amateur football tournaments across the world and has working partnerships with many local leagues. In South Africa, it also provides sponsorship for events such as the Scara memorial games and the annual championships of Kimberley, Limpopo and Port Elizabeth.
This year's KwaMahlobo final was won by Mathayithayi FC with a victory over Snake Park Chillers.