By FOCUS REPORTER
South Africa’s young talent will be on display when nine provinces and an additional team from the South African Schools Football Association (SASFA) battle it out for the annual SAFA Under-17 Championship. The week-long tournament was launched on Thursday, 25 November 2010 in Pimville, Soweto.
In celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the tournament, the 2010 edition returns to headquarters of football having travelled around the country over the last few years. It will be hosted by SAFA Johannesburg, starting on Tuesday, 7 December to Sunday, 12 December 2010.
The opening and group stage matches will be played at the Nike Sports Grounds (formerly SAFA Development Centre) in Klipspruit near Pimville, with the Eldorado Park Stadium hosting the semi-final and final matches.
Unlike in previous years when arrival and registration was done at hotels, this year that process will take place at the home of football, SAFA House. This is done so as to acquaint all the participants of the tournament with the football offices and the FNB Stadium. A tour has also been organised to take the teams around the venue of the opening and closing matches of Africa’s first World Cup, the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The SAFA Under 17 Championship is the oldest and most consistent tournament of SAFA, having been first played as the Coca Cola Under-16 Inter-Provincial in June of 1991 in Durban. The competition was first played three months after the unity of SAFA. It was used as the first real interracial test to see if the unity could hold following the integration of SASA (Soccer Association of South Africa), SASF (South African Soccer Federation) and FASA (Football Association of South Africa) to form one football body, SAFA.
The tournament has grown from strength to strength from humble beginnings. In the first edition in Durban in 1991 it featured former Bafana Bafana player Quinton Fortune, and has over the years produced many a star.
Since 2007 the Under 17 Championship has been bankrolled by SAFA, thus keeping up with the tradition and the consistency.
SASFA are the 2009 champions having defeated KwaZulu Natal two nil (2-0) at the 19th edition which was hosted by SAFA Siyanda in Upington, Northern Cape. The North West Province took the title two years ago, while Free State was crowned champions in 2007.
“We are delighted as the South African Football Association to be part of this prestigious tournament – the oldest in the Association. This tournament is rich in history having been used as a test for our re-unification, and it has stood the test of time. And to show how much it means to us, we as an Association have been running it for the past four years. We have said before that development is crucial and important to us, and we have indicated it by financing this competition,” said Sam Masitenyana, Chairman of SAFA’s Competitions Committee.
SAFA’s technical director, Serame Letsoaka believes the future of this country’s football prowess lies in such competitions.
If we want to prosper as a nation, we need to nurture our young ones, and it is at such tournaments where we can gauge how the future of our senior national team is. We cannot focus on development and yet ignore the grassroots. When these players come into the Under 17 level, they should be almost ready to play in the big league, this competition should not be used as a starting point when we can do that at your Under 12s and 13s. Having travelled around the country to such tournaments, I can attest that we have great talent in this country but it needs to be used every week for it to grow, these boys shouldn’t wait for tournament such as these before they can play – we should try and integrate them into the Premier Soccer League,” said Letsoaka.