"The journey started in 1989," Sam Muzvanya recalls. That year, the first final of the Coca-Cola NASH (National Association of School Heads) Football Tournament was held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, with teams from the country’s 10 provinces. 

Although named after Mexico’s 1998 football tournament, Copa Coca-Cola was born and bred in Africa. I recently spoke with Muzvanya, Copa Coca-Cola ambassador and a Coca-Cola system veteran from Zimbabwe, to get the story behind the global grassroots football program he helped create in the late 1980s. 

Supporting Football from the Grassroots: Inclusiveness and Passion

Rugby and other sports continue to gain popularity in Zimbabwe, but football has always been the nation's primary past time. 

“We needed to be part of it,’’ Sam explains. “We wanted to achieve a way of grooming young boys so that after school, those who were good at football could continue with sports.’’ That’s when then Coca-Cola NASH Football Tournament was born. 

While beer and cigarette companies were the main sponsors of the Super League at the time, youth clubs did not have the leadership to support a national football program. NASH, a branch of the Ministry of Education, provided a structure to reach kids across the country, both from urban and rural backgrounds. Inclusiveness, a Copa Coca-Cola hallmark, was a key concern. Five years after the first final in Baluwayo, statistics indicated that urban high schools dominated their rural counterparts, steadily collecting victories. 

“We wanted to spread football,’’ Sam says. “We wanted to ensure that each and every high school had an opportunity to participate.’’ 

In 1995, six years after the tournament’s inception, Mashoko, a rural high school, prevailed. Galvanized by their victory, Pamushana, Dewuri and Chemhanza, all rural high schools, followed. 

Mashoko’s success presented a turn in the tournament’s dynamics, inspiring other rural schools to promote football. It also shaped the spirit of Copa Coca-Cola. According to Sam, from then on, teams with the most passion -- not the most resources -- emerged as winners. 

Sam Muzvanya at a Copa Coca-Cola tournament in Africa, 2006.

A National, Regional and Global Football Program Since the beginning of the Coca-Cola NASH Football Tournament, Sam has attended all 25 finals. “It has always been in my heart,’’ he says. 

In appreciation for his contributions, Sam was invited to attend the first-ever Copa Coca-Cola International Camp in Brazil, where 116 teens from 28 countries came together for five days of training, friendly competition, camaraderie and service. 

“What has really impressed me is to see how big Copa Coca-Cola has grown… it is now global,’’ Sam says. 

What began as a collaborative effort with Zimbabwe’s government has expanded to 60 countries, reaching more than 1.3 million young players worldwide.

The African continent has been at the heart of this expansion, hosting a regional football tournament in the 1990s. This legacy has placed Africa at the forefront of Copa Coca-Cola’s development. In September 2013, South Africa hosted 140 teens from 14 African countries. This year, 46 of teens from Africa traveled to Brazil. Their dedication and enthusiasm both on and off the pitch helped them stand out. 

The camp’s Top Scorer, top goalie and Fair Play Awards were given out to Yuma Yusuf, Khulekani Khubeko and Ahmed Hussein from Tanzania, South Africa and Egypt, respectively. Others like Juma Yatina from Malawi and Serge Quiaibio from Ivory Coast were recognized for their personal attributes; Juma’s curiosity to learn and immerse himself in other cultures earned him the Keep Discovering Prize, while Serge’s qualities as a natural leader awarded him the Captain Prize. 

Serge Ouabio of Cote d’Ivoire, captain of the winning team and winner of the Born Leader award of the camp.

Serge Ouabio of Cote d’Ivoire, captain of the winning team and winner of the Born Leader award of the camp.

‘Mukoma Sam’, Big Brother Sam

From a high school football program to an international camp in Brazil, Sam has not only seen Copa Coca-Cola stretch across borders. He has also witnessed the transformation and development of football in Zimbabwe. 


Sam with two young players from Zimbabwe at the 2014 Copa Coca-Cola International Camp in Brazil.

Many young players have since their enrollment in Copa Coca-Cola gone to pursue professional careers in football. On average, eight to 10 Copa Coca-Cola kids are scouted each year by Zimbabwe’s Premier League, amounting to 250 players since 1989. 

Tatenda Munditi, a 17 year old from Zimbabwe who attended the Copa Coca-Cola International Camp in Brazil, is one of them. Tatenda was a goalkeeper for the Zimbabwean team in the Copa Coca-Cola 2013 tournament in South Africa. He is now a player for Mutare City Rovers, a First Division Team in Zimbabwe, and recently joined the Under 17 Zimbabwean National Team. His dream is to play for Chelsea.

Perhaps the most famous case yet is Peter Ndolvu. As a young player from Mzilikazi highschool, Ndolvu rose through the ranks of football, integrating a community team and eventually joining Zimbabwe’s National Team. In 1991, he signed with Coventry City and played for the English team for 10 years. 

Like many teens who have taken part in Copa Coca-Cola, football had a transformative effect on Sam’s life. After completing his high school education in 1973, Sam got an offer to work at Victoria Bottler if he agreed to play for their football team. He worked in the Coca-Cola system until retiring earlier this year. He’s known by the locals as “Mukoma Sam”, or Big Brother Sam. 

“I’m like them,’’ he says. “Soccer gave me a job.’’