By: Bright Chikele..
SCHOOL children from across the country stand the chance of football stardom with the launch of the 2016 COPA Coca-Cola grassroots school football tournament – now in its 23rd year.
COPA Coca-Cola is the premier grassroots football tournament sponsored by the drinks brand in partnership with the Zambia Schools Sports Association (ZASSA) and the Ministry of Education. The initiative commenced in 1993 with only 100 schools participating and has now grown to include 450 government and private schools in Zambia.
The tournament has a number of professional football players among its alumni including 2012 AFCON winners Stoppila Sunzu and Kennedy Mweene.
“At Coca-Cola, we recognise that we cannot have a healthy and growing business unless the communities we serve are healthy and sustainable. As a global beverage company, we have committed ourselves to improving the quality of life in the communities where we do business,” said Zambian Breweries Managing Director, Annabelle Degroot.
The sponsorship covers prize money, transport and logistics, accommodation and meals for teams and officials, kits and other Coke branded clothing, soccer balls, hire of football pitches and payment to referees.
About 450 school teams will play in this year’s tournament, with knock-out games being played at regional level. The top schools in each region go on to provincial tournaments. A total of ten schools – one from each province – then qualify for the national championship finals in Lusaka later in the year.
The national games are played in the capital over five days, during which the best 13 players are selected to form the country’s COPA Coca-Cola team that travels for international camps for ten days.
In 2015 Chizongwe were crowned champions of the COPA Coca-Cola schools football tournament following a thrilling final at the Olympic Youth Development Centre (OYDC) in Lusaka. The Eastern Province team beat 2014 runners-up, Chongwe High School 4-1.
As part of its Live for a Difference committment to communities, COPA Coca-Cola promotes an active, healthy lifestyle while fostering teens’ interest in soccer. The tournament offers youth an opportunity to meet and interact with peers across the country as well as other nations. The programme also provides opportunities to recognise rising soccer talent among community youth.
In order to broaden their exposure and heighten their aspirations to become “the best of the best” in football, Coca-Cola also leverages its unique association with FIFA to give the young stars a once-in-a-lifetime experience to watch an international match live.
Across Africa, COPA Coca-Cola is played in 23 other countries that include Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda, Congo, Swaziland, Nigeria and South Africa, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius and Burundi. Outside the continent, COPA Coca-Cola is also played in the Americas, Europe and Asia and is in a total of 64 countries and over 1.3 million players.