Google "Copa Coca-Cola" and you'll get nearly 2 million hits related to the global project that was created by one of the world’s largest beverage companies and has changed lives, one football match at a time. There are Copa Coca-Cola fan clubs in Mexico, community websites in Zambia, Facebook pages in Uganda and testimonials from supporters in Chile, Colombia, Spain and Argentina.

What Is Copa Coca-Cola?

The international health and fitness program began in Mexico 15 years ago. Copa is the Spanish word for “cup,” and the Coca-Cola Cup has grown to become the largest inter-middle-school football tournament in Mexico. More than 80,000 schools have taken part in the competition, which has benefited 1 million young people so far. “Copa Coca-Cola began because promoting football (or futbol) and health has always been a key priority for our company,” says Lizette Zavala, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola who is associated with the program in Mexico City, adding that the company will continue to support the project because it "provides a good incentive for young people to adopt an active lifestyle."

“The special thing about Copa Coca-Cola is its ability to permeate borders — social, economic and cultural — and bring young people together to create healthier communities,” says Zavala. Her message underlines the brand’s basic premise: The health of the business depends on the health of the communities served.

In Mexico, where football is the national passion, mention Copa Coca-Cola to any middle school child, from Mexico City to Monterrey, and his or her eyes will light up immediately. Copa Coca-Cola not only helps young people stay active and healthy — it also offers the promise of catapulting talented players into the national limelight.



Football

In Mexico, where football is the national passion, mention Copa Coca-Cola to any middle school child, from Mexico City to Monterrey, and his or her eyes will light up.


Creating Opportunities

Copa Coca-Cola alumni include such big names as Mónica Ocampo, Alberto Medina and Héctor Moreno, all of whom played for the Mexican national team. As in the past, there will be scouts at Coca-Cola Cup 15 (which kicked off Oct. 6 and will continue through Dec. 14). Their role is to guarantee tryouts throughout the tournament as well as at the National Grand Finale. According to Coca-Cola, all the scouts will be representing First or Second Division teams or the Sub-15 National Team.

In a two-minute promo video for Copa Coca-Cola, Armando Hernández Torres, a physical education teacher and football coach in Jalapa, Veracruz, wears the team jersey, emblazoned with Coca-Cola's iconic red and white logo, while teaching kids the basics of the game. “To get more people involved in sports is one of my biggest challenges,” admits Torres, whose students mostly come from rough neighborhoods. “I know that at this age it’s not easy, and believe that the solution is to keep the mind occupied. Sport is the solution.”

As the camera pans in to get a close-up of the children tackling the ball, it's clear from the smiles on their faces that Torres has succeeded in doing just that.

Torres isn't the only one who has realized the potential of the Coca-Cola Cup. For the past 12 years, Daniel Elorreaga, a professional football coach and two-time Copa Coca-Cola champion, has been coaching teams from Christopher Columbus School in Mexico City to play in the tournament.

Backed by the Federacion Mexicana de Futbol Asociacion, Copa Coca-Cola has slowly evolved into a hotbed for talent, with more and more students vying for a spot on one of the teams representing their school. “This year we will be sending three teams from our school because of the high demand,” Elorreaga says. “Copa Coca-Cola is a very big and important tournament in Mexico and every kid has his eye on the cup.” Most of Elorreaga’s former students have gone on to pursue successful careers and raise families, but “they still meet up to play sports,” he says. “It’s amazing what this sport has left these kids with .... It teaches them team spirit.” And, more important, how to stay fit. According to Coca-Cola, Copa Coca-Cola has helped young Mexicans exercise between six to nine hours every week.

Elorreaga recalls the day his team won the Coca-Cola Cup in 2003. “It was also my wedding day,” he says, smiling. “After the final game, the kids showed up at my wedding with the cup. It was one of my best experiences as a coach.”

Preparations are going strong for this year’s tournament. “The best part is that enrollment is free,” says Elorreaga. With more than 5,000 teams competing for this year’s cup, securing a spot in the Grand Finale won’t be easy, but Elorreaga is ready for the challenge. If his team wins, they will compete against next year’s winners for a ticket to the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. They will also get a chance to shadow the Mexican national team.

In the past, the venue for the Copa Coca-Cola Grand Finale has included Estadio Azteca, Mexico’s largest stadium, where football giants such as Pelé and Diego Maradona have left their mark. (This year it will be held at the national team’s High Performance Center.) “Imagine a kid being able to play where the World Cup was held and where the professionals play,” Elorreaga says. “It’s a dream come true for them.”