New site

Dear subscribers,

I’ve been threatening a new web site for a long time now, and today is the unveiling. You can now access all Personal S.A. content – and a lot more – at the newly-launched

I hope you’ll continue your subscription over there by adding your email in the top right sidebar. will be discontinued in the coming week.

Thanks, everyone, for your continued support,



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Go long

Originally prepped to go live on August 29, 2010, this post fell under the wheels of a fast-moving fortnight that saw me complete a contract here in downtown Toronto and accept a job offer in Mexico.

The one-year anniversary of this blog was supposed to also mark its completion.

In the original draft I imagined August 29 to August 29 as a perfect circle, like a ball. It was a natural metaphor for a blog about soccer and community. So what does the inconvenient addition of these extra 15 days do to my analogy? It makes my ball a little flawed, slightly misshapen – just like its imaginer.

In the end, I think I’m alright with the addition of a little chaos. People and communities and games of soccer all somehow remain great and complete despite their asymmetry. It’s time for me to wind up and send this imperfect ball long.

I’ll see you all at the next match.

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New study says football is an effective teaching tool for AIDS and HIV prevention programs

Normally I keep the nerdiest research material to myself, but something really exciting and thought-provoking just happened in the world of sports and international development: Coxswain Social Investment has released a new study called “Using Football for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Africa”, and it indicates that football-based AIDS and HIV-prevention programs are highly and uniquely successful.

I’m not surprised by this, but the 55-page report written up all academic-like (the Table of Contents presents no fewer than 15 “findings”) is like a professional reference for the game I love. There’s been a study, there’ve been findings, and they’ve proven what players and fans have known all along: that this people’s game that can be played anywhere in the world with nothing more than a ball is much more than a diversion – it’s a viable delivery model for life-saving messages.

OK, so here’s the thought that provoked me:

3.2 Gender Inequality
The spread of HIV has much to do with gender inequality. HIV is prevalent much more among women than men, and about two thirds of newly-infected young people aged 15-19 years in sub-Saharan Africa are female. Grassroot Soccer stresses the importance of girls benefiting from  prevention efforts by making sure that half its participants are female. In Grassroot Soccer’s Street Skillz Sessions…, football game rules are designed to involve girls as much as possible, for example by counting each goal scored by a girl as two points.
– “Using Football for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Africa”

For some context, Grassroot Soccer is the organization co-founded by former professional soccer player and (TV show) Survivor Ethan Zohn. It’s an organization with a mission I support (“… to provide African youth with the knowledge, skills and support to live HIV-free”) but I’m put off by the practice of handicapping by gender. Ensuring that half of the program participants are female is an obvious and justified mandate, but how does a differential point system play into this? I just don’t get it. [Note: Check out Zak from GRS’ response in the comments. It would appear that this rule in the Street Skillz program is no longer in use, and was never aimed at the AIDS and HIV-prevention aspect of the program. Rather, it was an attempt to facilitate girls’ inclusion by encouraging passing to them.]

I don’t want to take a perfect cause for celebration (yet another example of soccer saving the world) and diminish it by focusing on a single aspect of program delivery. Instead let me present this thought, provoked: Does counting girls’ goals as more than boys’ goals somehow ensure that girls benefit from prevention efforts, whether by encouraging participation in the program or by diminishing gender inequality? If so, how?

For more soccer-related provocation and celebration, download the report here (I found it via Play the Game, which “aims to strengthen the basic ethical values of sport and encourage democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in world sport” – highly recommended reading for the sports development geek.)


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World Film Collective facilitates youth film making

More from the social innovation files: World Film Collective “…teaches filmmaking to disadvantaged young people around the globe, using equipment that is sustainable, accessible and affordable, providing them a rare chance to be forerunners of the current digital communications revolution.”

The group offers workshops to young (10 – 25 year-old) participants in their communities and at no cost. The entire programme takes three years to complete. Films are distributed using social media channels, the web site, and are entered into film festivals.

What do I have in common with kids? Soccer! It took me all of 27 seconds to find “Township Tournament”, 2:08 minutes on an alternative World Cup competition that took place in the townships around Cape Town.

“I felt like I was in front of God.”
– Answer to the question “How did you feel when you scored those goals?”, asked of a participant in the tournament, “Township Tournament“, World Film Collective

Highly recommended, but beware: it’s dead simple to lose hours on their YouTube channel.

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First Japanese woman to compete in US men’s professional baseball, and some updates (Semenya and the Iranian girls’ football team)

According to, baseball pitcher Eri Yoshida is making history for being the first Japanese female to play baseball in the US male professional league.

Eri Yoshida, from

Eri Yoshida, from

Yoshida’s maverick balling began in Japan when at 16 she was drafted to Kobe Cruise 9 in the minor Kansai Independent League, making her the first female to play professionally in that country. Now, playing for the Chico Outlaws, she’s the third woman ever (and first Japanese woman) to play in the US men’s professional league.

“There are probably ladies who think they might be able to compete at a high level, but maybe don’t have the confidence. This will give them the confidence. This will open doors.”
– Chico manager Gerry Templeton

Elsewhere in the sport and gender universe, Caster Semenya is competing again, but news reports are still consistently muddied by rumors of official wrong-doing related to the six months of “gender testing” forced on the runner. At this point, I really haven’t the foggiest idea what the official line is, but it’s clear that Semenya’s name will be associated more with a gender panic than with her astonishing athletic contributions for some time. Pity.

And finally, the Iranian girls’ football team is competing at the Youth Olympics in Singarpore. You’ll recall that the team was originally banned from participating in hijab and removed from eligibility.  Then, a modified uniform was presented that met Youth Olympic guidelines for sport safety, but prompted Marzieh Akbarabadi (who’s in charge of women’s sports in Iran) to protest, calling the outfit “inappropriate”. It would appear that a compromise has been reached, because the team is in Singapore competing.

Photo from The Ledger Independent, (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Photo from The Ledger Independent, (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was on hand to watch the Iranian girls’ game, and offered this:

“It’s very important,” Blatter said. “It’s very important for football, that football be played by and in all cultures. Especially at this level of the youths, and the Olympic idea, I think it’s very important.”
– Sepp Blatter, “Headscarf issue solved, Iran girls focus on soccer

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Soccer and social innovation

I recently became aware of a social innovation* organization called Changemakers, “a community of action where we all collaborate on solutions.” The site hosts, among other things,  contests designed to feature and fund worthy programs, and the one that’s caught my eye is the “Changing Lives Through Football” competition.

Finally, the event is in the voting phase which goes until August 18, 2010. Finalists are eligible to win prize money totaling $90,000 USD to foster real change in the world. I voted for Soccer 4 Hope (and you can, too, here) because they’re operating out of Cape Town and focus specifically on the empowerment of girls and women through soccer.

And in soccer-changes-the-world news from much closer to home (like, Lamport Stadium), I’m only three days away from participating in the Rock the Pitch Charity Soccer Tournament. That’s only three more days of fund raising, the proceeds of which will go to Athletes for Africa’s partner organizations in northern Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Sudan. If you think this is a worthwhile and effective example of social innovation, sponsor me at EVERY donation get a tax receipt.

*Interested in learning more about social innovation? Check out these organizations currently on my radar: the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto and Open IDEO, an online crowd sourcing platform.

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Photo stream from Sport and Development Flickr group

An evocative collection of photos that speaks volumes about the role that sport plays in reaching development objectives like education, health promotion, gender equity, and peace-building.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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