World Cup in South Africa draws attention to Santos, a soccer team dedicated to inclusion
Monday, July 5, 2010
LANSDOWNE, SOUTH AFRICA -- They squirmed with pre-match jitters, huddled in a circle in their spotless green uniforms as Coach David went over last-minute instructions.
"What is the most important thing when we get the ball?" the coach asked, and a half-dozen eager hands shot up.
"Position!" one blurted out.
"Right," the coach smiled. "And we must do what?"
"Spread out!" chimed another.
And so it went, until each boy seemed sure of his role, every mouth was rid of bubble gum and everyone had been reminded to stay on his feet and, when in doubt, look for a green jersey.
With that, the Santos under-11's scampered onto the pitch on a recent morning for their match against a blue-jerseyed bunch from Johannesburg.
Cape Town's Santos soccer team is nicknamed "The People's Team" because of its founders' 28-year commitment to integrated, inclusive sports.
That belief is reflected in the Santos professional squad that competes in South Africa's Premier Soccer League. It's reflected in Santos' thriving youth league, which provides instruction to 382 boys and girls ages 7-17, regardless of race, here at the team's complex in the southeastern suburbs of Cape Town. And it's reflected in the under-11's coached by former Santos player David Notoane, 42, which consists of black, white and Indian boys who seem to care only about the green on their uniform.
The very notion of a "People's Team" was a subversive idea when Santos was founded in 1982, during South Africa's brutal apartheid era, in the township of Heideveld on the barren expanse known as the Cape Flats.
But in recent weeks, parents have been streaming into the Santos office daily to ask about enrolling their children in its youth program.