On 28 March 2023, the first day of the Grannies International Football Tournament commenced in Limpopo, South Africa.
The four-day tournament was hosted by South Africa's Vakhegula Vakhegula soccer team and saw 15 teams, made up of women aged 55 and up, compete. Teams from across the world, including Zambia, France, USA and Mozambique took part in the tournament.
— Jean Duffy (@Jean_G_Duffy) March 30, 2023
The tournament has been nicknamed the Grannies Soccer World Cup and was the first of its kind. Vakhegula Vakhegula soccer team (Vakhegula means "grandmothers" in the Tsonga language) was formed in 2007. Beka Ntsanwisi founded Vakhegula Vakhegula after battling colon cancer. She was diagnosed when she was 35, and during her time in the hospital, she was surrounded by predominantly elderly women suffering from various medical conditions, many of which she felt could have potentially been combatted by improving their day-to-day lifestyle.
After entering remission and leaving the hospital, Ntsanwisi formed a regular exercise group in her community. One day, a group of teenagers accidentally kicked a soccer ball the exercise group's way. After one of the participant's attempt to kick the ball back resulted in tear-jerking laughter, the idea to form a soccer team was born.
Ntsanwisi insisted that the teenaged boys teach the group how to play soccer correctly and they also recruited a coach, Jack. Three years after the chance encounter with the soccer ball, the 2010 FIFA World cup, hosted by South Africa, enabled the Vakhegula Vakhegula to attract much media interest from the rest of the country.
American Jean Duffy was amazed by the soccer group, and through the help of donations, she was able to fly the Vakhegula Vakhegula team to the USA to participate in a tournament organised by the United States Adult Soccer Association.
Vakhegula Vakhegula's spirit inspired Duffy to write a book which was published on 10 May 2023. The team also inspired an award-winning 19 minute documentary by Lara De Wet.
— Rowman & Littlefield (@RLPGBooks) April 25, 2023
“Their stories and the resilience they have shown are incredible and they’ve worked so hard to help the next generation care for their children too. I just had to share their spirit with the world,” Duffy told Women's Sport Alliance.
The Grannies Soccer World Cup was a dream Ntsanwisi had hoped to achieve since she started the soccer foundation.
“It was just a phenomenal event which brought together women over-50 who all shared this passion for football and showed fitness for older women is important,” Duffy said.
“I've never played in front of five people, let alone a stadium with 5000 people so it really was an amazing experience and it helped spread the message even further.”
Ntsanwisi, now dubbed as the ‘mother Teresa of Limpopo’, continues to promote sport while educating other women about mental health and illnesses, particularly dementia (women with dementia in South Africa are sometimes accused of being witches, putting their lives at risk). Ntsanwisi also hopes to build a retirement community for women in South Africa in the future.
Vakhegula Vakhegula soccer team has inspired almost 100 teams across Africa, which is creating wonderful changes in many women's lives and their communities.