The Championnat Baka Sans Alcool is one of the world’s most unique football events – and one of the most important from a development point of view.
First inaugurated in July 2015, the championship takes place in Mintom – a forest region in southern Cameroon. The region is home to the Baka ethnic group, a unique culture of forest-dwelling and farming people who show great courage in the face of adversity.
Fighting the scourge of youth alcoholism
The broad smiles and carefree enthusiasm of Baka youths on the soccer field disguise a saddening reality: alcohol is rife in their community, related to the marginalization and social difficulties they suffer. Sold in small plastic sachets, these low-cost spirits are damaging young lives in the Baka community. Although the sale of this substance has been banned by the Cameroonian government it is still available in the local community.
Fortunately, help is at hand. Fundación LaLiga joined the local population and the NGO Zerca y Lejos two years ago on their Championnat Baka Sans Alcool (the “Baka Championship Without Alcohol”) to bring hope and motivation to the youth of this brave community by donating football kits for all participants and referees, in addition to technical material for implementation of the tournament.
Championnat gives hope and promotes healthy living
While poverty, alcoholism and social ills weigh heavily on many of these talented young players, their potential as future footballers is there for all to see.
To help foster these football stars of the future, LaLiga and its partners are planning to bring some of the world’s best football training to Cameroon each year. LaLiga Delegate in Cameroon, Tresor Penku has been key in making this a reality. “It’s one thing to inspire the youth to better their circumstances, doing it by means of a much-loved sport like football encourages real interaction that we’re confident will boost morale even more so,” he said.
“We’re thankful that we get to make our mark in a country that needs us the most, and we will continue seeking opportunities like these to positively impact the youth in and around Africa,” Penku added.
Football skills meet life skills
120 boys and girls from the Mintom region, divided into 8 teams, took part in the fifth Championnat last summer with great results.
Their mornings were occupied with workshops and talks on health, community safety and the dangers of alcohol. In the afternoons they took part in soccer training sessions and matches that drew crowds from the nearby towns and beyond.
While learning professional football skills that will give them a chance to be selected for local, club and hopefully even the national teams someday, these aspiring young players are also learning crucial life skills. The results are impressive – and heartwarming to observe.
Making a lasting difference in young lives
Zerca y Lejos works in Cameroon, Peru and Spain accompanying communities and vulnerated groups with a Human Rights approach and promoting social transformation and a more just world. They have been working with the Baka Pygmies in the South of Cameroon since 2001.
According to María Minué, vice president of the NGO Zerca y Lejos from Championnat Baka Sans Alcool, the tournament has quite literally been a game changer for the local youth. “People underestimate the power sport has to empower the youth to make better decisions. Teamwork, commitment and dedication are just some of the attributes that football promotes. Attributes that are imperative to adopt if these kids are to steer away from alcohol,” said María.
As the Baka youth replace dependency with soccer as a means of beating poverty, the success of the Championnat Baka Sans Alcool has drawn praise from every corner of Cameroonian society.
With the endorsement of local authorities, the event looks set to continue its good work for years to come.