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Zim footballers share experiences with veteran U.S. sports administrator
US Embassy
June 22, 2011

U.S. soccer administrator, Jon McCullough, has expressed optimism about the prospects of Zimbabwean footballers acting as positive role models on social issues such as the fight against HIV and AIDS, promoting peace and being brand ambassadors for the sport.

"I was taken aback by how involved all the participants were. When I asked them to give me an example of how they wanted to contribute to the movement, they would write half a page within two minutes.... It made it so enjoyable to see how well received the whole concept of being a positive role model is here. There is this potential in Zimbabwe for serious opportunities where they can make a difference using the sport of football," said McCullough at the conclusion of a two-day workshop June 20-21 organized by the Footballers Union of Zimbabwe (FUZ).

"I will now take football not as a sport but as a movement," said Salimu Milanzi of Motor Action Football Club after the workshop. "Football is not just a sport it is something in society, and from now on I will get involved not just by teaching others but also living the example," said the former Hwange and Masvingo United soccer star.

FUZ was established in March last year and works to provide, promote, facilitate and safeguard proper welfare and conditions of footballers as well as promote professionalism in sport. In May this year, the United States Embassy, through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), provided a $60,000 grant to support a partnership between the Footballers Union of Zimbabwe (FUZ) and Population Services International-Zimbabwe (PSI-Zim) to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by educating the union's membership, football fans and young people.

"This interaction with a seasoned professional sports administrator from the U.S. is a continuation of our partnership with FUZ to ensure that players in the football industry can be effective role models in the prevention of HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe, as well as other social programs," said Sharon Hudson-Dean, Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy.

The workshop covered various aspects of sports administration including football governance, branding, and managing oneself as an athlete.

"The most important thing is that we had administrators, sponsors and team owners participate. A lot of issues were discussed, including getting and maintaining sponsorship, branding for clubs, and being positive role models. It was very enriching," said More Moyo, Treasurer of the Footballers Union of Zimbabwe.

Participants included soccer players and coaches in Zimbabwe's premier soccer league as well as representatives of the Women's National Football Team currently in camp ahead of the COSAFA tournament scheduled for July 2 this year.

McCullough believes playing soccer is beneficial for women. "It's a physically demanding sport and you have to be aware of your body, you have to take ownership of your body. Once women take ownership of their bodies and gain confidence, they eliminate those stereotypes they've grown up with."

Equally important is the effect of women's competitive soccer on the way men perceive women, said McCullough. "If you give women the opportunity to compete at a high level, and men see that, it's a tool to help understand equality. It creates a conversation and puts women in that conversation."

During discussions, participants inquired about many aspects of the game including how the U.S. has dealt with issues like racism and education in sport. Others shared insights about virtually all aspects of developing the game of football, with various sports personalities sharing their experiences.

"What needs to be improved in Zimbabwe is language," said Norman Mapeza, national soccer team coach. "The majority of us here understand Shona better than English. If you go to Bulgaria, Turkey and China, everything is in their language. This is a problem in this country - why can't you put everything in the local languages so that everybody can understand," he said

"In the U.S., we have an advantage in that we have a great competitive college sports system. There are opportunities for young athletes to compete in the United States through a scholarship as long as you have never played professional sports. Developing something like that in Zimbabwe will be a struggle in universities, but it is valuable because it helps recruit young athletes," said McCullough, who is chairman of the Athlete Council with the U.S. Soccer Federation and is also serving his second term on the Board of Directors.

On June 23 and 24, McCullough will be in Bulawayo where he will work with local NGOs to conduct workshops on peace building. As an advocate, McCullough has worked with a variety of international organizations such as the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, with whom he developed an international conflict resolution program. He first implemented the program among groups of youth in the former Yugoslavia who were disabled from the war, bringing former foes together through soccer, putting them on the same teams, and helping them work through conflict.

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