Kia McNeill, Hope Solo Experience South Africa with Grassroot Soccer

Whitney KellerContributor IJuly 28, 2010

The Atlanta Beat’s Kia McNeill and Hope Solo were both given the tremendous opportunity to go to South Africa during the World Cup in June to work with Team Up Exchange in partnership with Grassroot Soccer in Soweto, South Africa and the Grassroot Project in Washington, D.C.   

Recently, Women’s Professional Soccer and Grassroot Soccer announced a new partnership supporting Get Active!

Get Active! is a campaign fighting childhood obesity across the country. WPS and Grassroot Soccer will hold three-on-three tournaments in WPS team markets to promote healthy living and active lifestyles.  

During McNeill and Solo’s time in Soweto, both of the athletes spent time with a group of 20 kids, half from Soweto and the other half from D.C., who were brought together by Team Up to work on a global HIV/AIDS awareness project during the 2010 World Cup.

Hope has worked with Grassroot Soccer before, and the organization gave her a chance to make an appearance in South Africa along with a teammate who wanted to have an involvement with Grassroot and AIDS awareness. The cause hit Kia close to home, so Hope asked her to come along.

While the players were there, they put on a few soccer clinics for the children, played games, and talked with them about their goals and interests.

We used soccer to show that it’s a way that you can empower people, show off your skills, be yourself, and express yourself. We really wanted to convey that to those kids, whether it be through writing, singing, giving speeches, or soccer that there's a way to express yourself. So we went to South Africa where soccer is a huge part of their community to just go have fun with the kids,” said McNeill.

The kids also got another special opportunity that they are sure to remember.

“They got to take some shots on Olympic Gold Medalist Hope Solo, so they enjoyed doing that,” said McNeill. “We did some races and some scrimmages. It was so much fun.”

The children and athletes also got the chance to attend the World Cup. Kia says she and Hope were able to attend about seven matches while they were there.

Both McNeill and Solo took away just as much from their time in Soweto as did the children in the program. When speaking on what stood out the most from her visit, Kia mentioned the vast difference between the amazing World Cup stadium and the ghettos of Soweto.

“The World Cup is like the pinnacle of your career for a soccer player, and you can go 10 miles down the road to Soweto, where Nelson Mandela grew up, and you see the difference,” said McNeill. “This is where you start playing soccer and there's barely any grass on the ground; there are bricks to line the goals and no nets.” 

These areas were the complete opposite of the state-of-the-art World Cup facility.

Kia is ultimately appreciative of the experience, saying “I just think that seeing that disparity and just the love of the game down there brought back a different love for me, a different appreciation. That's what I took from the experience.”

 *Photo courtesy: ISI Photos