14 December 2010First National Bank, one of South Africa’s four major banks, is to invest R40-million (US$5.8-million) in developing the country’s young footballers over the next few years.The bank will sponsor the national under-17 boys’ and girls’ teams, as well as school football tournaments. It has already built four pitches in as many communities, and another will be finished in 2011.FNB’s investment, announced on 9 December, is part of the bank’s legacy programme following the 2010 Fifa World Cup, into which it pumped R30-million ($4.3-million).“We’re happy to announce this, especially at a time when I can assure you that things are not easy in corporate South Africa,” said FNB brand director Derek Carstens.The government and the South African Football Association (Safa) praised the bank for its pledge.The biggest chunk of the sponsorship will go to the under 17-boys’ and girls’ teams, respectively known as Amajimbos and Abantwana. FNB has already channelled R18-million ($2.6-million) into these teams, which are eyeing spots in the next Fifa World Cups for their age groups.“The key objective we’ve set ourselves is that Amajimbos and Abantwana qualify for the World Cup in 2012 and 2013,” Carstens said.FNB has been involved with the Amajimbos for a number of years now, but the Abantwana sponsorship is a new venture. “We look at male and female sports as equally important,” he added.Bringing the Beautiful Game back to schoolsThe FNB Festivals are tipped to become the next biggest fad in school football. A total of 162 schools will participate in the inaugural event in 2011, after which it will become an annual fixture.Twenty schools will battle it out in the Lucas Radebe Tribute Festival, which is the Soweto leg of the competition in south-west Johannesburg. St Davids Marist in Sandton, Johannesburg will see 42 schools slugging it out for glory.Grey College in Bloemfontein will host 20 schools, while a further 32 schools will use Durban’s Kloof High School as their battlefield. Victoria Park and Benoni High, schools located in Port Elizabeth and east of Johannesburg respectively, will each host 16 school teams.The schools’ competition is viewed as a great way to get pupils back into the swing of the Beautiful Game. Local football experts agree that the sport has long lost its ground in both urban and rural schools, which has impacted negatively on talent development. This is blamed for the current under-performance of national squads.“Our football in schools, I must say, is dead,” said Serame Letsoaka, Safa’s technical director. “This is where we tapped in for talent.“Thank you FNB for creating this opportunity to go back to schools.”R15-million on turfsThe bank channelled about R15-million ($2.2-million) into the development of football pitches before the 2010 Fifa World Cup. The pitches were created in Thohoyandou in Limpopo, Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, Mthatha in the Eastern Cape and George in the Western Cape.A pitch in Kimberley, Northern Cape, will be completed by June in 2011, the bank said.Community leagues will play their matches here, and may also host touring international junior teams. “We’re looking at teams like Boca Juniors of Argentina to bring their under-17s to play at the turfs,” said Carstens.Carstens said they have partnered with local municipalities in the areas to maintain the grounds.Coaches will be groomed for all the venues. Letsoaka, a coach himself, is excited about coaching clinics that will be run at the pitches. “We have been saying, let’s produce developmental coaches. These are the areas where we’ll develop coaches,” he said.Lucas Radebe, the former Bafana and Leeds United captain, has been appointed the ambassador of FNB’s legacy programme and he’ll oversee activities on the pitches.Intensifying Soccer Classic ClashesThe bank’s Soccer Classic Clashes competition, which was launched in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, in 2007, will also be extended. Starting in 2011, there will be far more venues and matches than in previous years, according to FNB.Minister of Sports and Recreation Fikile Mbalula said: “This legacy programme will impact on thousands of lives. A number of Bafana Bafana and Banyana Banyana (national male and female teams) will be drawn from this programme.”First published by MediaClubSouthAfrica.com – get free high-resolution photos and professional feature articles from Brand South Africa’s media service.