Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter
THE 30th edition of the Copa Coca-Cola, a revolutionary schools football tournament that started in Zimbabwe and has spread its wings around the world where it is now played in more than 60 countries, was launched in style in Goromonzi yesterday.
The tournament has been credited with providing a platform for a number of the country’s finest players, including the legendary Peter Ndlovu, to announce their arrival on the big stage.
It has also provided a template for scores of countries around the globe who now stage their versions of the Copa Coca-Cola tournament and has been hailed for boosting the development of the game in the world.
More than 80 000 schools from across the world took part in the Copa Coca-Cola, with more than 1,3 million teenage footballers showcasing their budding talents in the tourney.
It is also the longest running football sponsorship in the country.
A global research conducted by the sponsors, Coca-Cola, in 2014 praised Zimbabwe for its pioneering role in introducing the tournament in 1989, when a 16-year-old Ndlovu was still a student at Mzilikazi, and says the tourney has been such a huge success around the globe.
The report said it has had a massive impact in the development of the game around the world.
“In 1989, Coca-Cola in Zimbabwe created a competition to empower footballing passion and support the development of budding grassroots talent,” the report reads.
“The event was an unrivalled success and soon spread throughout the country before, almost a decade later, moving across the Atlantic to Mexico in 1998, where it became Copa Coca-Cola (inspired by the Spanish word for Cup).
“The tournament was implemented in partnership with governments and football federations to make the competition one of the leading events in the country’s sporting calendar.
“Since the official introduction of the programme, Copa Coca-Cola has expanded to more than 60 countries across five different continents
“Copa Coca-Cola continues to expand, with more countries and teens participating in the tournament.’’
But what impact does football have on young people’s lives and how?
National Association of School Heads president Johnson Madhuku yesterday described their partnership with Coca-Cola as a special relationship that has continued to blossom over the years in their efforts to promote schools football development nationwide.
Yesterday saw the two partners coming together to launch the 30th edition of the Copa Coca-Cola football tournament at Rusununguko High School in Goromonzi, Mashonaland East.
This year marks 30 years since the boys competition was started in 1989 when Gifford High hosted the finals and for the girls it’s the eighth edition.
The actual competition for the Under-15 boys and girls tournament, which starts at zonal level, is scheduled kick-off in a few days’ time.
Speaking at a colourful ceremony yesterday, Madhuku said the football competition has grown to become the biggest event on their calendar.
“It’s now 30 years of a special relationship of continuous sponsorship and investment in the development of football in this country since school sport is pivotal and forms the bedrock or foundation for the development of sports for any country,’’he said.
“What started off three decades ago as small and in humble beginnings like the biblical mustard seed analogy has now grown out to be the biggest, most lucrative and most fancied and popular tournament in the Nash sport calendar.
“Through which, so many football stars in this country have been churned and passed courtesy of the Copa partnership and football development strategy.’’
The zonal games kick-off on May 24.
They will be followed by the districts competition on June 8.
Provincial finals are pencilled for June 22 and the national finals will be in Zvishavane from July 12 to 14.
Coca-Cola senior brand manager Vee Chibanda said the girls will now get the same prize money as the boys.
“We realise that there is no reason why the boys should get more than what girls get. So this year, the good news is that to mark our 30th anniversary, we have equalled the playing field. Girls prizes are the same as boys prizes,’’ said Chibanda.
“So everyone, let’s play to the best of our potential, we all stand to win.
“Last year we took the girls to the regional tournament for the first time and we are not going backwards, we are continuing with supporting both boys and girls.
“This is Zimbabwe’s schools’ most prestigious and oldest sponsored soccer tournament, now it’s the 30th edition for the boys and eighth edition for the girls.
“The Nash-organised soccer tournament has made a mark on the lives of secondary school pupils, their families and communities throughout Zimbabwe over the years. It shows the lasting power of football and it reminds us of how far we have come.’’
As part of their legacy project, Rusununguko got four water tanks from the sponsors.
They were crowned champions last year when their 10-member team beat Pfupajena in the final.
In the draw conducted during the launch, Rusununguko will have to up their game if they are to retain the title after they were drawn against provincial winners for Masvingo and Mashonaland West in Group D.
Masvingo Province has over the years provided some of the strong teams such as former champions Dewure and Pamushana.
In the girls section, title holders Chidyamakono are up against Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland West provincial winners in Group C.
The launch was graced by former Dynamos captain Justice Majabvi, former Warriors defender Dickson Choto and More Moyo as well as Mighty Warriors player Rudo Neshamba and Greater Bande, who was a member of the Vainona team that won the 2011 and 2012 editions.
Group A: Mandava, Harare, Manicaland.
Group B: Bulawayo, Midlands, Matabeleland North.
Group C: Mashonaland Central, Matabeleland South, Mashonaland East.
Group D: Masvingo, Rusununguko, Mashonaland West.
Group A: Manicaland, Matabeleland South, Zvishavane.
Group B: Mashonaland East, Matabeleland North, Midlands.
Group C: Chidyamakono, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West.
Group D: Harare, Masvingo, Bulawayo.