The Rhino Cup Champions League was created in 2016 to stop young men from hunting rhinos in nature reserves. This league will uplift, engage, and protect. Soccer can bring communities together and build trust.
The RCCL league aims to empower communities, educate them on conservation, sustainability, and growth, and conserve rhinos, animals, and the wildlife habitats.
If somebody says to you, "I will give you $10,000 to go work for three or four days, do something exciting, track an animal in a place you're very familiar with and kill that animal." I'll head back to the place where my ancestors used to live, kill a rhino, hack off the horns, and come back and give them to you. You gave me my money, and now my life is better off. So "the money dream" goes, it is good, now there's happiness.?
So, when we, as the Wild and Free Foundation, came here the first time, the community said they could use help with a soccer league. The Rhino Cup Champions League (RCCL) started in August 2016, and we kept coming back every two to three months, bringing soccer kits to the guys, to see how we could truly help the communities in Mozambique, keeping communication going with the community leaders.
Here we are now with an official league based on the English Premier League, which has a point system; three points for a win, one for a tie, and zero for a loss. We couldn't have been more excited.
It's easy for us to take a lot for granted; how a soccer kit or just giving someone something makes them feel special. They feel needed and wanted in this world, and by giving them just a soccer uniform, they automatically feel proud, happy, and have something to look forward to.
Soccer is huge here. There are kids bottling up plastic bags just to use as soccer balls. Everyone's always playing soccer, whether it's little kids, whether it's adults, whether it's whoever, everyone here plays soccer. It is the crafted culture within the community.
“The community are happy about the Rhino Cup Champions League (RCCL) being established in their community. We decided as a committee to start this kickoff in Sabie, Maputo, Mozambique. The community has shown us a very positive sign in really embracing the RCCL because this is for us all. We are trying to upgrade this community; we encourage the young guys to play soccer, to ensure they avoid many things like drugs and poaching. We are trying to draw their attention and concentration to the game of soccer.” Bernardo Malavela, Committee Member.
The Sabié Game Park is nearby, bordering the Kruger National Park in South Africa, which creates an interesting kind of relationship between the villages and Sabié Game Park. Many store owners and many businessmen here all have a background in something regarding the game park, whether that is helping them out or whether that is poaching themselves.
Some residents of the area come from disadvantaged backgrounds and live in poverty, and it is the poorest of communities that become the first targets of poachers.
The young men are looking to earn some sort of an income, so they decide to enter the wildlife reserve. They are taking a huge chance. Many of the young men were killed in the bush, but we are now attempting to keep them occupied.
We gave ourselves five years, and once you can add community projects onto the soccer project, then maybe we’ll start to see a difference within the community.
Humans are causing the extinction of all creatures because we want to impress one another, so the conspicuous consumption is created by "I want to impress you with this piece of art," whether it's ivory or rhino horn. "Look at what I have," or "look at what I can afford." Just that mentality is irritating enough to be angry at what humans are doing, finding it okay to kill an animal just for status.
A lot of the communities have physically been moved so a national park or a wildlife reserve could be created. They were pushed off their land. The land was fenced. So, in their eyes, what they see is rich white people coming to take photos or hunt those animals, but the community members now have no access to the land that was once theirs. Now we have an animosity towards wildlife and conservation.
At the beginning of 2017, Rachel Ledebuhr, a volunteer school teacher, started her class with about 35 boys, and at the end of that year she had about 15 boys left in her class. She lost twenty boys, of whom it is unclear whether all twenty boys were because of poaching, but definitely a good number of the young boys were. At one point in the year, Rachel Ledebuhr went into a class and on the board were the words "rhino horns" and dollar signs all around it. So, she stopped class and had a little conversation about why it is important to preserve our wildlife.
At least seven years ago, when Matt completed his anti-poaching training, they would sing songs about catching poachers, hating poachers, and castrating the poachers. “You were trained that there was an enemy and if we capture or kill that enemy, then we win this war.” Realizing that's not true, it's only holding the line a little bit, but it's not the long-term solution. So, when we came here to actually meet with the poachers, "the big bad wolf," you realize that they are actually great guys. They are normal people, with dreams and families, and being here in their economy and environment, you realize that there's no place to actually get a job.
We could blame the rich, greedy people for this poaching situation. but, being involved in communities, no matter what you do, is nothing new. Very few community engagement projects have really been successfully carried out in the past, over the long term, as many companies seeking to do "good" within the communities end up commoditizing the community’s poverty through the platforms of media exploitation.
“Wild and Free Foundation is doing something huge for the communities, and people appreciate it as well. Providing them with uniforms, providing them with real games and a real set up of games is huge. There are countless people who invite their friends and family to the games all the time” Rachel Ledebuhr.
“It's a good sense of motivation for young players. You know, if you get a new jersey representing the team you play for, you are motivated on and off the soccer field. I want to show that I'm wearing a new jersey. I have to show the people that this is going to be a good game.” Bernardo Malavela, Committee Member.
Sport is proven, scientifically proven, to be an uplifting thing where it improves grades, concentration, creativity, and now when you have the team involved, you have a responsibility to that team, you have that sense of hope, and that, "Wow, somebody cares about me.”
As we see the smiles, we are all so proud and happy that Wild and Free Foundation has achieved a sense of true happiness and upliftment within the communities. At the start of it all, we were all about guns and camouflage, and when you look at that, even if you look at a website with guns and camouflage, you know there is no happy ending there for somebody. Now we're protecting rhinos from the outside inwards by uplifting the communities.
Back in July 2017, after our first Rhino Cup Champions League knockout tournament, which was just a small tournament and not a league yet, The ladies within the communities came to us personally and said, "My kids will never go back to the Kruger".
There is certainly hope for a brighter and better future.