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Beyond World Cup 2010 glitz, boys' soccer club battles post-apartheid woes

The World Cup 2010 match of Uruguay vs. France kicked off Friday in Cape Town. Amid still-prevalent crime and segregation in post-apartheid South Africa, a soccer academy in a nearby suburb tries to keep boys out of trouble.

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“We teach the boys discipline and dedication," van Niekerk says. "I treat them all like professionals and am hard on them on things like lateness and manners. If you give them discipline on and off the field, they learn to respect themselves because a lot of them don’t have that at home."

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“I call it prehab, not rehab, get them before they start causing trouble. They can easily fall into gangs who will feed them, look after them, and love them unconditionally – for a price.”

The soccer academy is situated at the 1960s-era Woodlands Primary School, which teaches about 460 boys and girls ages five to 15. Van Niekerk says GCU has taught soccer to an estimated 1,500 boys since it started and now operates seven youth teams.

Keeps most boy away from crime

The literacy rate in Heideveld is about 25 percent and the average child drops out of school at 12 years old, contributing to the crime rate here. Van Niekerk believes that about 70 percent of GCU players have stayed away from drugs and gangs.

But that also means that an estimated 500 boys have entered crime. When The Christian Science Monitor recently visited the academy, van Niekerk was called away to challenge a gang outside the school who had hit a 12-year-old player on the head thinking he was a rival gang member. “He’s not a gang member, he’s just 12-years-old," van Niekerk says he told the gang.

While wealthy Cape Town and the rest of the world sit to enjoy the World Cup, GCU will be watching it on a giant screen at their dilapidated school, beside their rubbish-strewn practice pitch.

“We can’t afford to go to games," van Niekerk adds. "They sold us cheap tickets for R140 ($18) but who has R140 when they can’t even pay their school fees?”

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