S.Africa's grannies kick out stereotypes on the soccer field

Spectators watch the Grannies International Football Tournament (GIFT) 2023, at Nkowankowa Stadium, Tzaneen, South Africa March 26, 2023. REUTERS/Alet Pretorius

TZANEEN, South Africa (Reuters) - Wearing blue tracksuits and waving their national flag, South Africa's Vakhegula Vakhegula soccer team jogged into the stadium to cheers ahead of their first match against team USA.

It was the first day of the Grannies International Football Tournament in Limpopo province, and this team - like the others - was made up of women aged 55 and up. Vakhegula means "grandmothers" in the Tsonga language spoken in South Africa.

"At my age, I think if I was not in this sport I should have been confined to a wheelchair," said 66-year-old striker Flora Baloi, who started playing in 2017 after suffering from severe arthritis.

Now she said she no longer needs medication, as the exercise keeps her physically and mentally fit. When not practicing with the team she likes watching soccer on TV with her husband, and spending time with her five grandsons.

The tournament, nicknamed the Grannies Soccer World Cup, is the first of its kind hosted by Vakhegula Vakhegula. The team was formed in 2007 to improve the health of local women, and it led to the creation of other granny teams across the country.

The four-day tournament will see at least 15 teams compete, from South Africa and other countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Teams have come from as far away as France and the United States.

"We love it. It means so much to us. It's a community, it makes us healthy," said U.S. player, 64-year-old Mo Kelly.

(Reporting by Siyabonga Sishi; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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