Professor Shirish Soni, South Africa's ambassador to Qatar, with the Cape Flats Football Academy and Al Ahli Sports Club teams. Photo: Supplied

CAPE TOWN - A passion for community building, spirit of entrepreneurship, and love for soccer have helped a Cape Town team travel 7400 kilometres to showcase their skills in Qatar – hosts of the 2022 World Cup.

The Cape Flats Football Academy, comprising seven under-19 and four under-25 players from various clubs in the Mother City, wowed local and expat fans with both their talent and sportsmanship. 

The brainchild of chief executive officer Ashraf Allie and professional sports coach Abdul Maliek Cassiem, the academy is the fruit of much sweat, negotiation, and dedication from the duo, who managed to get Nandos Qatar on board as a main sponsor. Smaller associate sponsors, namely Awqaf SA, Albaraka Bank, the City of Cape Town, Burrda Sports and Old Mutual, also played a role in alleviating some of the demands of the tour.

Film production company Good TV, meanwhile,has documented the squad’s journey and a series about the tour, which took place from April 14-29, will be available for free through its mobile TV channel later this year.

Allie, who is also chairperson of the Hanover Park Cricket Club and ex-chair of the Cape Flats Chapter of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, explained the rationale for the tour.

“South Africa, and especially the Cape Flats in my home city of Cape Town, has so much young talent. What these youngsters lack are proper opportunities. It was my wish, and that of Abdul Maliek, to find those rough diamonds who could benefit from a tour of this nature," he said.

"That doesn’t mean only a career in football, because we have to accept that not everyone can take that path, but perhaps the opportunity to travel and broaden their horizons opens their eyes to the possibilities that exist in the world today.”

Cassiem, a former professional tennis player and head coach at the Qatar National Tennis Federation who now consults in Doha across various codes, understands well the positive impact of sport. He wanted to show the team that there was life beyond the Cape Flats.

"Open trials were held for players and those who have received this wonderful opportunity should seize it. We have boys from the most impoverished areas, such as Hanover Park and Manenberg, and this was a chance for them see what is possible if you focus on the positive and live your life properly," Cassiem said. 

"We had kids as young as 15 in the squad, and this type of experience can only enrich their lives. My wish is that they pass on some of the lessons they’ve learnt to those in their communities.”

Allie paid tribute to SA’s Ambassador to Qatar, professor Shirish Soni, for helping to make the tour a success. Soni said he was proud to welcome the academy to Doha, saying that there were many opportunities for partnerships and initiatives between SA and Qatar, as highlighted during the recent official visit to Pretoria by the Gulf state. He said that bilateral relations between Qatar and South Africa had three focus areas – the building of political relations; economic relations; and strengthening partnerships in culture, sports and education.

It is very easy to choose the wrong path at a young age and I am proud of these boys for choosing the right path through sports. I wish them all the luck in the future,” Soni added.

The academy produced stellar performances against their Qatar opposition, winning four out of seven matches. Allie believes their standout display was in a special invitation match against the Pakistan International School – and not because the Cape team romped to a 15-0 victory.

“Our boys showed humility and heeded the words of Ambassador Soni that the result was not important, and that it was important to remember that SA and Pakistan have a relationship stretching back many years. They played in the true sprit of Ubuntu and interacted with the Pakistan players, sharing ideas on the game, having fun together, and just trying to get the most out of the experience,” said Allie.

And the experience is really what it’s been all about for the players – on and off the field. 

“If you’d told me two months ago that I would get the chance to play in the country that’s going to host the World Cup in 2022, I would have just laughed,” said 18-year-old Fawaaz Petersen, the team’s top goal scorer on tour. “But I did. And sometimes I still can’t believe it was real.”

Cape Flats Football Academy

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