• Sweden edition
 
Stateless 'World Cup' kicks off in Sweden
Per-Anders Blind, head of the Confederation of Independent Football (CONIFA). Photo: TT

Stateless 'World Cup' kicks off in Sweden

Published: 06 Jun 2014 16:02 GMT+02:00
Updated: 06 Jun 2014 16:02 GMT+02:00

Despite yet another crushing defeat, Darfur United's goalkeeper is still upbeat about playing in an international soccer tournament near the snow-peaked foothills of northern Sweden.

"Football helps us ... we get to tell people about the situation in our camps. Otherwise nobody hears about us," Ismail Gamaradin tells AFP after his team lost 19-0 to stronger, better trained players from the breakaway Georgian republic of South Ossetia in the first round of CONIFA World Cup matches.

The day before they lost 20-0 to Padania, a team representing them autonomous aspirations of Northern Italy.

Gamaradin was just 11 when Janjaweed militia gunned down his father in front of him, forcing him to flee with his mother and seven younger siblings to refugee camps three-days-walk away.

"It's very difficult there now -- there's not enough food, medicine or education and the UN says we have to go back to Darfur next year," added the soft-spoken 23-year old.

"But there is still killing and raping everywhere. We don't think there'll be peace any time soon."

His team consists of survivors of a conflict that began in 2003 and has killed hundreds of thousands according to some estimates. They came to Sweden with the help of an aid group working in camps on the Chad-Sudan border that house more than 300,000 people.

California-based group i-ACT brought footballs to the camps in 2005 to help rebuild the shattered lives of the refugees. And football has become a way to tell the world about a forgotten crisis overshadowed by other refugee emergencies such as Syria and South Sudan.

"Conditions are getting worse and worse, there is less and less aid ... We need to get Darfur on the map again," said i-ACT founder Gabriel Staurer, who lobbied hard to get the team to Sweden, amid warnings that Chad would stop the NGO-run football training in the camps if the refugees overstayed their visas.

Football is one of the few things these men have left, said Staurer, adding that militias visit their camps to lure the most desperate back to Darfur to fight in the escalating conflict.

"If these guys don't pick up a football, they're gonna pick up a gun," he said.

Darfur United was up against other teams with large refugee diaspora including Kurds, Aramean-Syriacs, and Tamils.

They all expressed the same goal: using football to put their people on the map.

"I feel really honoured to wear the jersey of Tamil Eelam," said Umaesh Sundaralingam, a 21-year-old student from Toronto, Canada.

Tamil Tiger rebels fought to control this part of northern Sri Lanka in a war with government forces that killed at least 100,000 -- ending in the alleged massacre of 40,000 Tamil civilians before the government claimed victory in 2009.

An international Tamil youth organisation selected players from Canada, France, Germany and the UK -- some of them professional players -- many of whom met for the first time just ahead of the tournament.

"The one thing that connected everyone was that we all have roots in Tamil Eelam -- a lot of people don't know what went on in Sri Lanka and we want to publicise it," said Sundaralingam, at the stadium which was dotted with bright red Tamil flags bearing the separatist group's tiger emblem.

"And this is one way to show we're a nation and that we're stronger than ever."

Yet despite the global ambitions of the teams to reach a wide audience, the stands in Östersund's 6,000-seat area, perched on a forested hillside above a glittering lake, were conspicuously empty for most of the games.

Per-Anders Blind, head of the Confederation of Independent Football (CONIFA), said it would take time for the word to spread as the organisation was less than a year old.

He put his faith in pay-to-view online broadcasts of the games which he said had already attracted more than a million viewers at previous friendly matches.

But Blind, who has indigenous Sami roots, also blamed the Swedish media for portraying the event as a world cup for ethnic minorities.

"I get so crazy when I hear that!" he said. "Take the Kurdish people -- even if they are a minority of 130,000 in Sweden, they are 40 million in the world."

Kurdistan, the ruling champions from the last non-FIFA tournament -- the 2012 VIVA World Cup in Iraqi Kurdistan -- were tipped to win the final on June 8th, until they were knocked out in the quarter finals.

That left Aramean-Syriacs, a diaspora team with Middle Eastern roots among the favourites -- with stiff competition from the County of Nice in France and the Isle of Man. Blind hoped Sweden's sizeable Aramean-Syriac community would boost paltry ticket sales when they play at the weekend.

And while the competition was expected to be fierce, just wearing their national colours in an international tournament was enough for most.

"We have our own identity," said Lee Dixon, the Isle of Man coach from the self-governing island between Ireland and Britain (and no relation to the former Arsenal defender).

"But a lot of these teams are fighting for their own identity -- breaking away from a country or trying to get their country back."

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.no)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Opinion
'Why were we kept in the dark for years?'
The submarine hunt is now in it's sixth day. Photo: TT

'Why were we kept in the dark for years?'

Military expert Johanne Hildebrandt tells The Local that the biggest question in the Stockholm submarine hunt hasn't been answered yet - why don't we know more about the "other operations" from the last few years? READ  

The Local List
Eight things to love about renting in Sweden
Apartments in Sweden are compact. Photo: Shutterstock

Eight things to love about renting in Sweden

A housing crisis means that short-term sublets are the norm in major cities and rent regulation rules are frequently flouted. But this week, The Local's decided to look on the bright side of renting an apartment in Sweden. READ  

Business & Money
Nordea banks big third-quarter profit gain
Nordea's Chief Executive Christian Clausen. Photo: TT

Nordea banks big third-quarter profit gain

Swedish bank Nordea announced on Wednesday a sharp rise in third quarter profits despite the economic slowdown and major outlays for an IT overhaul. READ  

National
Knutby priest faces early release from prison
Knutby in eastern Sweden, the scene of the murder. Photo: TT

Knutby priest faces early release from prison

A former priest in eastern Sweden who was sentenced to life in prison for organizing the murder of his wife has had his sentence reduced. READ  

Opinion
'Sweden will see Russia as a threat again'

'Sweden will see Russia as a threat again'

The Local speaks to one of Europe's leading security experts about why social media meant the Swedish military couldn't keep their 'submarine' search a secret and how she believes the country will ramp up its security against Russia. READ  

Interview
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
Comedian Al Pitcher has launched his new tour. Photo: www.alpitcher.com

'Swedes are funnier than they think'

New Zealand-born Al Pitcher launched his new comedy show in Stockholm this week. There wasn't a dull moment as The Local phoned up the man who has become one of Sweden's hottest comedians, while he took an eventful stroll in the capital. READ  

National
Stockholm suicide bomb investigation closes
The suicide bombing took place in 2010. Photo: TT

Stockholm suicide bomb investigation closes

Sweden's Security Service (Säpo) has announced that it will stop its core investigation into a suicide bombing in Stockholm four years ago. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Military heads into 'new phase' in sub search
The search for the missing 'submarine' is now in its sixth day. Photo: TT

Military heads into 'new phase' in sub search

A press conference on the search for a suspected foreign vessel in Swedish waters revealed that the Armed Forces would be heading into a "new phase" on Wednesday, although it remained unclear what that might involve. READ  

Lifestyle
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
The bronze replica cannon. Photo: Beth Dacey.

Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden

A replica of one of the cannons present on Stockholm's iconic Vasa warship when it sank in 1628 is being tested for the first time in central Sweden. READ  

Health
Swedish farmers contracted swine flu
Swine flu can spread between pigs and humans. Photo: TT

Swedish farmers contracted swine flu

A human strain of the swine flu virus normally only found in pigs was discovered in Sweden earlier this year, the country's Public Health Agency has revealed. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Get 20% off unique Swedish homeware
Blog updates

21 October

Denna & den här (The Swedish Teacher) »

"?Denna? or ?den hr?? Swedish language students often ask question about different pronouns. One pronoun that especially..." READ »

 

19 October

Getting it (Blogweiser) »

"Follow Joel Sherwood on FB Few watch baseball in Sweden. This is excellent when your team loses..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Politics
Ten new minister faces you should know
Tech
First womb transplant baby in world born in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 5th
National
What's on in Sweden
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

1,007
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN