Interview with Johan van Geijn on the relationship between SA and KNVB

In light of the latest developments between the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) and The Mandela Foundation, we decided to have a chat with Johan van Geijn, KNVB's specialist in International CSR Partnerships and WorldCoaches.

Why do you think football is so important in South Africa?

Soccer is characterised as a sport where everyone on the field is viewed as equal, no matter your race or background. This is not just important in SA, but worldwide. Soccer also equips players with key life values that contribute to the individual growth of the player. These values stem from lessons that include learning how to work together to achieve a common goal and learning how to cope with winning as well as losing.

Why is it so important in the Netherlands?

Soccer is important in the Netherlands for the same reason that it is in South Africa and because we are all born with an ‘Orange’ heart. Football is so deeply entrenched in our culture that Dutch people can start playing soccer when they are able to walk, up until they can no longer walk. In the past few years, we’ve even introduced ‘walking football’ for the elderly who still wants to kick the ball even at an advanced age.

SAFA and the KNVB have been working in partnership since 1993, why do you think this partnership is so important?

The KNVB values positive relationships with other associations. There are only a few associations who we share a history with and where our multicultural societies do not differ all that much. Soccer has been named a ‘universal language’ and South Africans understand our soccer language quite well.

How did this collaboration change since 1993 and/or become a more mature relationship?

The collaboration has not changed all that much over the years, the focus has always been on the development of the game in South Africa and assisting in building local capacity. Many people from the early days are still involved in soccer and continue to assist in building on our existing collaboration. One particular achievement from this collaboration is the development of the Women’s game. In the 1990s there was no talk about this however in recent years it has become a prominent subject.

Please give us a brief synopsis of the Netherlands Football Association's (KNVB) WorldCoaches project in SA?

WorldCoaches is the international Social Program of the KNVB and aims to focus on more than soccer. We are cognizant that young players in developing countries face challenges off the field in the form of poverty, hunger, unhygienic water, crime and substance abuse. All these challenges can expose a kid to negative social circles. We believe that soccer coaches can assist in the process of keeping children away from these tough challenges, next to learning how to become better coaches. For WorldCoaches, South Africa is special because it is the country where this initiative started in 2009, prior to the 2010 World Cup.

What (more) has been achieved since the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa? / what are the biggest achievements since 2010?

When our national team participated in the 2010 World Cup -the first on African soil- we wanted to leave behind a lasting legacy. Our team players and staff donated a mini-pitch to orphans in Hillbrow which is currently being used by 240 children every week, under the guidance of John Sibeko, who was and is the first South African WorldCoach. As a part of this legacy, the KNVB made a commitment to South Africa to work with their partners to educate several 2010 WorldCoaches following the World Cup. The support for this initiate was reached before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. We now collaborate with SAFA on a joint curriculum that works on a grassroots level and includes Life skills as a part of the programme. As a result of this collaboration, WorldCoaches can now have the opportunity to on in the SAFA Coaching ranks.

Next year Nelson Mandela would have turned 100 years old. In light of this auspicious occasion, the KNVB will sign a MoU with the Mandela Foundation. What does this mean for the involved partners?

Firstly, this means that we will have an exciting year ahead of us! Nelson Mandela was an example to the whole world and gave sport a significant role in his mission for change. This was highlighted in his quote, “Sport has the power to create change”. Secondly, it means that we will have a busy year ahead with lots of activities, courses for community sports leaders and tournaments. In the Netherlands for instance, we would like to support the Mandela Foundation in basic schools so that children will hear the story of Mandela and realize the value of freedom and forgiveness.

The 100 year Mandela project will also open an Orange Court with the help of sponsors, how do you think such a court can make a big difference?

The Hillbrow Orange Court has shown that it can make a big difference for 240 young orphans living in a challenging environment. The court signifies a safe place for children to play and express their passion and talents. In 2014 we opened a court in Stellenbosch which lead to the University opening its gates for children from the townships to play next to the university. These Courts, once put down in the right context, become a driver for change. I think Mr. Mandela would have immediately agreed to this.

Why do you think it is so important that legendary soccer players like Pierre van Hooijdonk participate in football programmes like the one organised during the Volvo Ocean Race (Cape Town Stopover)?

It’s not just the Dutch legends who will shine in the programme, local (South) African legends like Kalusha Bwalya will also make appearances. Children need good role models who can inspire them and tell them that anything is possible if you are willing to put in the hard work and make the necessary sacrifices in order to achieve their goals. Big players like Pierre van Hooijdonk went through this process when they were younger and it is good that they are willing to pass on their experience and wisdom to young players who have chances that they might not even know yet.

Can you share a personal story/ anecdote from a past WorldCoach and how this has impacted various communities where implemented?

We have 11 385 WorldCoaches worldwide, each making a difference in the lives of children all over the world. One such story is about a young WorldCoach from Mozambique who unexpectedly passed away on 26 January 2017. His name was Nuno Paulino Guimarães do Rosario and he was a master at teaching Life Skills in our programs. The coaches and the children were crazy about his approach. With his infectious energy and ambition, he always worked to improve not only himself but also the lives of young people in Mozambique. We miss him dearly. Another story is about Martha Karimi from Kenya, one of the first ever female WorldCoaches. She played for the Kenyan Women’s team. Over the past 10 years, she has been involved in the WorldCoaches training of almost 500 Kenyan Women in football and Life Skills. Having not reached the age of 30 yet, she serves as an inspiration and role model to girls and contributes significantly to the conversation on the empowerment of women. 

What aspects regarding this collaboration do you think can be improved?

For a number of years, our courses have been organised and executed in collaboration with a sports agency called FowardZone. Although they take care of the preparation and logistics, they also actively look at which companies can be involved in the education of community coaches in South Africa. Together with South Africa-based financial services group Discovery, we managed to introduce more than 1,800 coaches to the game of soccer and later also fast food restaurant chain McDonalds. By involving companies, we provide an opportunity for them to connect with people, as well as contribute to soccer and other sports, to their CSR budgets. In this way they are able to give back to the people in a positive way and contribute to a healthier society.


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