Stars Come Out to Lift Up Adolescent Mental Health at Grassroot Soccer World AIDS Day Gala


On November 30, celebrities and high-profile individuals from the worlds of sport, entertainment, and global health came together at Lindley Hall in London to support Grassroot Soccer’s Ninth Annual World AIDS Day Gala. The event raised more than 1.7 million GBP for the renowned global adolescent health organisation, which uses the power of football to equip young people with the life-saving information, services, and mentorship they need to live healthier lives.

The evening focused on the theme of mental health – the most critical health issue facing young people globally, and one that affects other urgent health challenges, including HIV/AIDS. Grassroot Soccer honoured Ted Lassoand the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) for their respective impact on mental health with the Game-Changer Award. One of the highlights of the evening included Ted Lasso stars Brendan Hunt (Coach Beard), Kola Bokinni(Isaac McAdoo), and Billy Harris (Colin Hughes) accepting the award on stage on behalf of the show.

“All of us at Ted Lasso are proud of the way the show has lifted up and normalised important conversations about mental health, and we have all been moved by the way these messages have resonated with so many fans and viewers,” Hunt said. “It is truly an honour to have that recognised by an organisation like Grassroot Soccer that is doing such critical mental health work directly with young people.”

Highlights of the evening also included an intimate conversation between Gala Host June Sarpong OBE, U.S. Women’s National Team footballers and World Cup winners Christen Press and Tobin Heath, and Kunda Mwitwa, a Grassroot Soccer Coach from Lusaka, Zambia who works directly with young people through the organisation’s football-based adolescent health curricula. Press and Heath recently returned from a visit to Lusaka where they spent several days with Grassroot Soccer Coaches, including Kunda, and programme participants, seeing the work firsthand.

“Adolescence is such a uniquely exciting yet challenging period of life, and it’s so critical that young people have the tools to prioritise their mental health,” Sarpong said. “Grassroot Soccer is providing so many youths with this essential support, and I’m so excited to be part of an unforgettable night supporting their work.”

Other notable guests in attendance included Rachel Riley, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Calum Best, and Pasha Kovalev. The programme also featured video messages of support from David Beckham, Siya Kolisi, Seth Meyers, Phil Dunster, Cristo Fernandez, and Nick Mohammed.

Dr Tommy Clark and three fellow footballers founded Grassroot Soccer in 2002 after witnessing the devastating effects of HIV while playing professional football together in Zimbabwe. After watching friends die of AIDS, the four teammates recognized that football — a positive force in the community — could be used to engage adolescents to stop the spread of HIV. Over its more than 20-year history, Grassroot Soccer has evolved from a disease focus to an adolescent health focus, empowering more than 18 million young people to make educated choices about their most pressing and interconnected health challenges, including HIV/AIDS, mental health, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender-based violence.

“At Grassroot Soccer, we’re using the power of football and fun to improve the mental health and well-being of young people at heightened risk and with limited access to information and services,” said Dr Clark.

There was fierce bidding in the evening’s live auction. Among the hottest prizes of the night were a Manchester United matchday experience with Sir Alex Ferguson and a week’s holiday at the Xarraca Estate in Northern Ibiza. The evening also included silent auctions featuring experiences and prizes provided by Adidas, Ferrari, Ed Sheeran, Jack Whitehall, and more celebrities and brands.

The evening was supported by SNF, Goldman Sachs, Getty Images, Vitol Foundation, and more. The Gala reception sponsor was Chapel Down, the wine sponsor was Rupert Wines, and the after-party was sponsored by Casa Dragones, JJ Corry, and Malachite Gin.