The much-awaited ‘Sport for Peace’ football tournament has finally started at the Yei Checkpoint playground in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. The tournament is sponsored by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) with support from the South Sudan Football Association and Inter-Community Peace Initiative (ICPI) and brings together a total of 12 teams that include four women-only clubs.
Matches are being played between football clubs from the Juba Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp adjacent to UNMISS headquarters and sports clubs from six surrounding communities such as Moroyok, Nakitun and Jondoru, and so forth. Male and female players are competing alternately to determine who will take home the trophies on the final day.
In the opening game, Camp One Girls FC locked horns with Camp Three Central Girls FC. The well-attended match ended on a score of 3-1, in favor of Camp One FC, sending jubilant fans onto the pitch, ululating thunderously.
The tournament harnesses the power of sport to bring together young people in a common pursuit, thereby promoting reconciliation and unity. “Do not discriminate against one another during the game based on your ethnic or cultural identity,” said Brigadier General Malek Mapor from the South Sudan Police Service during the opening ceremony. “If you lose a match, work hard enough to win next time. This tournament is not aimed at dividing our people, but at bringing everybody together in social harmony.”
Captain Chan Thomas from the POC Three Girls FC, also a member of a national football team, was upbeat about the prospect of peace being achieved through the game. “Playing football together like this creates a much-needed bond between our different cultures and helps us build relationships, thereby advancing an acceptance of our diversity,” she states.
Ms. Thomas feels that girls around the country should take part in sport: “When a girl or a woman is interested in playing football, she shouldn’t be stopped. Every young girl has the right to achieve her own dreams. It’s only by empowering young girls to follow their heart will love and unity prevail in our young nation.” Local musician, King of the Forest, also from the Juba IDP camp agrees. “We are one people, we are one nation,” were his lyrics of choice as he performed for the cheering crowd. “We do not want any more ethnic divisions in South Sudan. Peace has come and let’s embrace it.”
For his part, Wilson Stephen Ladu, Chair of the ICPI, believes that economic development will only come about if South Sudanese eschew intercommunal rivalries. “Peace has to begin from the heart of the individual, before it permeates to the hearts of others; if someone steps on your toe and says sorry, please forgive him or her,” he averred.
The male segment of the game played between Nakitun FC and Lokwilili FC on the same day ended 1-0 in favour of Lokwilili FC. Checkpoint FC player Kano Kuot eloquently spoke about the power of sport. “Football isn’t just about scoring goals. It’s about physical fitness and playing as a team,” he said. “It teaches us to work together and live together. Football teaches us to unite and that is what we need to do as a nation if we are to achieve a sustainable peace for everyone across our great nation.”
Prior to the tournament, the UN peacekeeping mission helped train some 100 local coaches and 75 community leaders drawn from residents across Juba IDP camp on the rules of the game. Furthermore, the UNMISS Community Outreach Unit provided necessary sports gear to all participating clubs and distributed T-shirts, facemasks, pens and other promotional materials. The tournament finals will be played on 9 August.
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