May 29, 2011 ·3 Comments
Diaspora football tour seeks to champion sport for all
LONDON- As two of the most famous football clubs in Europe, FC Barcelona and Manchester United along with their legions of fans prepared to meet at Wembley for the UEFA Champions League Final others too were preparing for football glory. In Hayes, an unremarkable area of West London, a remarkable group of Somalilanders had assembled to be put through their paces as they plan to embark on an extensive football tour of their homeland. Talking to the team members and the organisers it soon became clear that what they hope to achieve is far greater than a series of football matches, here is a tour that embraces identity, roots, friendship and a real sense of what can be done when politicians and communities have a vision.
Those behind the football tour which is due to begin on 26th June 2011 have a clear sense of what they wish to achieve. In seeking to establish the Somaliland Diaspora Sport Association they recognise the constructive role that sport plays in society. One of the organisers,Yassein Abdi Mohamed, spoke enthusiastically of how essential sport can be for well-being; “…it is vital that in Somaliland planners and community groups set aside land for playing areas for children. We hope that this tour will encourage a real commitment from leaders at all levels… at the moment sport doesn’t even feature on the agenda.” He went on to explain how important it is that not just land be given over to sport, but time, appropriate investment in people and resources and the development of a sense of belief that overtime yields dividends for the country as a whole. Id Hassan Muse, Co-ordinator and Founder of the West London Somaliland Community nodded with agreement and added that sadly as yet in Somaliland sport along with history are lacking from the school curriculum. All are adamant Physical Education is a key component for a rounded and purposeful education, and that it should not be viewed as a luxury. The message was articulated with passion and clarity, sport has tangible benefits for society as whole.
This inaugural tour, will last several weeks, and is planned to be the first of many. It was originally planned for 2010, but due to the Presidential elections it was felt that it would be better to postpone it so that there would not be any possible distractions. When the idea was first mooted the parents of the players greeted the plans with enormous enthusiasm and have rallied to the cause eager to see their sons develop a greater sense of belonging. For some young members of the Diaspora this will be their first visit to Somaliland, an opportunity to reconnect with their heritage, to appreciate who they are and where they come from, for others it will be about sharing a passion for sport and celebrating the role that sport can play in bringing communities together. For most young people that form part of the Somaliland Diaspora sport is seen as an integral part of everyday life, not something that is an added extra, but a way of spending time, interacting, breaking down barriers and keeping fit and healthy.
The touring party will consist of some 16 players and 7-8 non-players. During the course of the visit the aim is to play matches in 6 regions. The Diaspora team whilst largely made up of young men from the Somaliland Diaspora in the UK will also include several players from Scandinavia. The players themselves have a clear sense of why they want to be part of such a tour. Adam bee Mohammed (18), who lives in Hayes and plays Centre Midfield eagerly endorsed the tour; “This is a really good project. Our community want to help the country (Somaliland) and I believe the young will benefit. It’s going to be great to meet different people, but I am sure it is going to be emotionally hard…” He goes on to say that he hopes such a tour will become a regular fixture. Guiled Ahmed Aden (20), from North London is convinced that he and the team will benefit from the tour; “It’s going to be a real motivation for us. We are going to see that life is harder for many in Somaliland and I’m sure that we are going to return appreciating the material things and opportunities we have in the UK.”. He went on to explain that he had already been involved in various charitable endeavours and has sponsored a couple of teams and collected football kit and funding for children. One of the younger members of the squad, Shakib Ahmed (15) who plays Right Midfield/Right Back informed me that he is eager to see how well the teams play in Somaliland. All the players spoke enthusiastically about the skill that they believe African players have, although they are in equal agreement that some of the physical fitness and skills is wasted because African players don’t always play as a team. The Diaspora team are well aware that challenges await, Abdirizak Ahmed (19) a Centre Midfield player from Cricklewood, North London shared his thoughts; “We are really excited about playing in our Homeland and going to see where our parents came from. The weather is going to be tough and we have to be sure we gel and play as a team.” Asked what they will do if they lose all their matches, he replies with good humour; “We can’t let that happen!”
There is a palpable sense enthusiasm and purpose amongst both the organisers and the players. They see themselves as a bridge, not just between countries, but communities. This whole initiative is not just about young people celebrating their love of the Beautiful Game it embraces a vision of sport for all and of the healing and constructive power of sport. Abdihakim Mohamoud Hassan, a quiet and measured ex-player himself, he formerly played for Petroliam, makes it clear that he wants to see all concerned putting something back; “Involvement in sport can be so positive, especially for the young. Countries like the UK and Somaliland have their problems such as street gangs or khat (qaad) and we need to come up with an alternative.”. All are aware that there are also a whole series of deficiencies in the sporting infra-structure, policy and support network in Somaliland. The absence of sports administrators, psychologists, physiotherapists and any form of national strategy means that the country lags a long way behind its regional competitors. Until Somaliland becomes aware of and takes ownership of this problem it has little chance of finding a solution. Mohamed Ali from West London is convinced that Somaliland needs to wake up and start to see sport and leisure as a business and organise and run it in a professional manner. As a young entrepreneur himself he believes that the players will return with a greater sense of purpose and direction, so there are going to be tangible benefits for all.
In this anniversary year whilst Somaliland has much to be proud of, it must also be ready to embrace change. Just as there should be water, food, education and healthcare for all, a society that fails to provide sport for all is one that is impoverished indeed. If this Diaspora Football tour helps to move sport up the political agenda that really will be a result the organisers and players and their families and supporters can be proud of.
Mark T Jones.Follow @somalilandpress