• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Stateless 'World Cup' kicks off in Sweden

AFP/The Local · 6 Jun 2014, 16:02

Published: 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.

Story continues below…

"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
'Let refugees go to uni while they wait': demand
A student at Stockholm University. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Asylum seekers in Sweden should be allowed to start university studies while they are waiting for decisions on their cases, it has been proposed.

The Local List
Ten Swedish phrases you only hear in summer
Let's work on that tan. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

Summer always leaves foreigners baffled by Swedes' unique seasonal habits. Here's The Local's guide to navigating small talk when the sun comes out.

Concern over barrage of fake Russian news in Sweden
The Russian propaganda site Sputnik News

Sweden is being subjected to constant disinformation campaigns by Russia and Isis, according to authorities.

So Sweden has high taxes? Not as high as you might think
A taxpayer hands in their tax declaration. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

So you think Swedes pay a lot in tax? Others pay much more, according to a new study.

Man injured in shooting at Malmö shopping mall
Rosengård Centrum in Malmö. Photo: Björn Lindgren/TT

Police cordoned off an area around a shopping centre in Malmö after a man was shot on Tuesday afternoon.

Swedish kids' TV cooks up storm with condom haggis
How, er, not to make haggis. Photo: SVT screenshot

Not the Swedish Chef as you know him.

Swedes outgrown as world's tallest people
How tiny they must look to a Dutch person! Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Forget the myth about the tall, blond, modern Viking.

Record number of drowning deaths in Sweden this year
Linus Magnusson och Ester Meijer, life guards at Skanör beach in southern Sweden last year. Photo: Andreas Hillergren/TT

More people have drowned in Sweden so far this year than in any other year this century. The good weather is getting the blame.

Presented by American Express
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
File photo: Pixabay

Getting ready to jet off on summer holidays? Be sure to check out these tips and tricks for avoiding unnecessary headaches between packing and relaxing.

Pupils' school photo Nazi salute 'wasn't criminal'
The harbour in Simrishamn, close to where the incident took place. Photo: Jorchr/Wikimedia Commons

Four high school students who performed a Nazi salute in a school photo have had their convictions for inciting racial hatred quashed by an appeal court.

Sponsored Article
What can newcomers learn about Sweden at Almedalen?
National
Meet the northern Swede who is the world's best mosquito killer
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
National
Sweden's Hollywood star Alicia Vikander puts her pen in the bottle
Gallery
People-watching: July 22nd-24th
Blog updates

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 

11 July

Swedish quizzes (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I have created some quizzes you can take online to test your Swedish skills. Here…" READ »

 
 
 
The Local Voices
The Jewish Syrian who dreams of rebuilding his country
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: Where Swedes go to work (and play)
National
Watch this Swedish weather host leave his fly open... on live TV
The Local Voices
'I fled war in Syria. I never expected to be beaten in Sweden'
National
WATCH: Asylum seeker brutally beaten by Swedish bus driver
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Technology
Why everyone is talking about Sweden's GTA pride parade
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
EU hits truck cartel with record price fixing fine
Society
OPINION: Why Sweden is the most extreme country in the world
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
The Local Voices
'There is equality in accommodation in Sweden: Everyone is suffering'
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Gallery
Property of the week: Gräsö, Östhammar
Gallery
People-watching: July 15th-17th
Sponsored Article
'Sweden's Lauryn Hill' touches the country's musical soul
National
How to make sure you're not caught out by Sweden's old bank notes
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Business & Money
Why Sweden has been named the most innovative country in Europe
National
Terror attack: what should you do?
Sponsored Article
Local guide: the best of Berlin
National
French expat on the moment he was assaulted by a Stockholm bouncer
Sponsored Article
Why you need a EuroBonus American Express Card
Technology
Gunman? Nah, smartphone Swede
The Local Voices
'If the war in Syria ended today, would you go back?'
The Local Voices
‘I feel like I’m living in a grave!’
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Princess Victoria celebrates 39th birthday
Gallery
People-watching: July 13th
National
Swedes discover surprise mountain
Politics
What Sweden's home secretary thinks of Britain's new PM
Gallery
Property of the week: Smedjebacken, Dalarna
The Local Voices
'Even xenophobic Swedes can be polite’
Politics
WATCH: A very Swedish take on Brexit...
National
Swede's fury at Daily Mail's Bråvalla 'lies'
Gallery
People-watching: July 8th-10th
The Local Voices
'The best time to be smuggled to Europe is August 20th, 2015'
The Local Voices
Swedes: Stop obsessing over your material life and start talking to strangers
3,335
jobs available