Inspired by the late David Back who, together with his wife Karen, worked in the Luangwa Valley for several years, a Football for Wildlife league was started by Remote Africa Safaris in 2015. The objective of the League is to build awareness and enthusiasm for wildlife conservation over a wide reach of the Luangwa valley residents through their abiding love of soccer. The initiative is ably managed by Jimmy Sakala and Carol Coppinger of Remote Africa Safaris and funded by The Tafika Fund.
The league involves teams from chiefdoms adjacent to both the North and South Luangwa National parks. Each team represents individual villages, generating great inter-village rivalry and communication for the 6 week period of the league. 8 mens teams, 4 from Chifunda (North Luangwa) and 4 from Mwanya Chiefdoms (South Luangwa), have competed in the league since its inception, for the prize, The Kafupi Cup (named after Karen Back, a lady small in stature but big in heart). In 2017 the football league was expanded to include a ladies’ league, offering encouragement and opportunities for the woman of the Luangwa, as well as men. This possibly marked the first time ladies played football in the Luangwa Valley in a competitive league.
The ladies league includes 4 teams from the northern Chifunda and 4 from the southern Mwanya chiefdoms who all compete for the Shipikisha Cup, meaning “BE STRONG TO GO FORWARD”. True grit and determination are shown by the ladies in learning both the skills of football and overcoming their cultural hesitance for this newly accepted female role in the community.
Much preparation is required on an annual basis to ensure the success of FOOTBALL FOR WILDLIFE. Each team has a coach and a manager. Training commences long before the league start date arrives. Uniforms and 34 footballs for the 16 teams are purchased in Lusaka through Valley Lodgeistics, the ever efficient and willing buyers for all the Luangwa Valley camps. Various UK schools have donated bags of used football boots which get distributed to a few lucky players.
Transport for the teams to move from village to village on match day is carried out by local taxis of all shapes and sizes.
Referees and linesmen keep the peace amidst the bubbling enthusiasm of supporters and players alike. Each player, coach and official receives a match fee to ensure everyone reaps a reward for their efforts. Uniforms, whistles, flags and banners all with their team branding, are provided, associating each team to their specific animal and building conservation awareness.
These matches provide great entertainment for all, enriching the lives of the surrounding communities, creating a friendly competitive spirit and encouraging different villages to work together. Most of all, the Football for Wildlife league aims to promote positive awareness for conservation of the Luangwa’s precious wildlife, trees and environment in an atmosphere of fun, excitement and achievement.