• Sweden's news in English

Stateless 'World Cup' kicks off in Sweden

AFP/The Local · 6 Jun 2014, 16:02

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Malmö's 19th Swedish title sets Champions hopes alight
Malmö fans celebrating after the match. Photo: Björn Lindgren/TT

Malmö FF have their eyes set on the Champions League after winning the Swedish league for the 19th year.

What's on in Sweden
Five great autumn events in Sweden this week
Jazz in northern Sweden. Photo: Umeå Jazz Festival

Food, music, movies and more food. What better way of helping yourself forget that the days are getting shorter and colder?

Here's how slow Sweden's high-speed trains are getting
A Swedish SJX2000 high speed train. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

The high-speed rail journey between the three biggest Swedish cities is about to get longer.

The Local List
12 Swedish words with just awesome literal translations
A filthy-minded lobster, i.e. a snuskhummer. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

One of our favourite things about the Swedish language is its wonderful compound words, which range from being utterly bizarre to making perfect sense.

US election
Donald Trump won't get new Ericsson head's vote
Trump pictured at a campaign rally in Florida. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

The new Swedish-American boss of telecoms giant Ericsson has revealed he will not vote for the Republican nominee in the forthcoming US presidential election.

Swedes named fourth most gender equal in the world
A file photo of men and women pushing prams in Stockholm. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Sweden has closed 81 percent of its overall gender gap according to the World Economic Forum.

Sweden: Russian warships in the Baltic 'worrying'
Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

Two Russian warships equipped with long-range missiles have entered the Baltic Sea after passing Denmark.

Why businesses are worried about Sweden's drone ban
A drone filming in Stockholm. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

The Local investigates what Sweden's new drone ban could mean for businesses in the country.

This is the new top boss of Swedish Ericsson
Börje Ekholm. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/TT

Telecoms giant Ericsson has appointed a new CEO after a turbulent year for the company.

These are Sweden's best universities: ranking
A new university ranking has been released. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/Imagebank.sweden.se

At least according to this global ranking, which picks 12 Swedish universities among the top-1000.

Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Is Game of Thrones coming to Sweden?
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Will Swedes soon be looking for fairtrade porn?
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
The Local Voices
'I simply don’t believe in nationality'
Why we're convinced Game of Thrones is based on Sweden
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
jobs available