By K Goldingay
Camp Djabal, Chad
When a place was confirmed for football club Darfur United at the 2012 Viva World Cup, a refugee (yes that’s refugee, not referee) exclaimed: “Now we are part of the world.”
The journey to the 2012 Viva World Cup in Iraqi Kurdistan seems almost impossible for this refugee team to navigate. The Viva Cup was set up in 2006 for those who were excluded by definition or resources from FIFA. The idea was to demonstrate that marginalized peoples could exist through sports competition. Many of the teams admitted never get a chance at the Viva’s Nelson Mandela Trophy due to issues like funding or politics. Darfur’s obstacles include: lack of funds, equipment, and food. Like the great Indian legend, Sailen Manna, a number of players up to now (shoe donations are pending) have practiced barefooted, enduring pain and injury with grace and pride.
Darfur United has just completed six days of trials. They’ve chosen a team. But the players not on the roster have survived worse than team cuts. Many lost everything, including their families, in the ‘scorched earth’ attacks perpetrated on their homes, villages in Sudan. Now, players like Sulieman Adam Borma attempt to restore their dignity on the pitch.
More than 280,000 Darfuris languish in Eastern Chad. Some have waited over nine years for the security to return home in peace. During the try-outs a buoyant atmosphere was sparked in their refugee camps. The strongest five soccer players from each of 12 camps were invited to the trials. Smiling children crowded the sidelines and traipsed around after players and coaches. Hundreds of brightly dressed women watched from a distance. It was a rare moment of jubilation.
On the second day, to avoid subjecting players to searing midday heat, volunteer coaches Mark Hodson (British) and Brian Cleveland (American) arrived before sunrise to set up the field.
“The Darfur United hopefuls have not ceased to amaze me but while Coach Mark and I were setting up the field, we began to wonder where the players were, disappointed if they had slept in.” Coach Cleveland reported.
“Seemingly out of nowhere, through a cloud of dust came the entire group of players in synchronized harmony, running to the field from their two base camp locations. They then proceeded to run in unison around the field for ten minutes moving and clapping with a symphonic rhythm that took the breath away.” Coach Hodson continued.
“It was like they had been playing together for weeks. Most of them just met yesterday…and they completely planned this (warm up drill) on their own.” Cleveland summarized.
With only eight weeks to train for an international tournament, these players from not only different camps but different tribes must galvanize. The coaches were awed by the dignity, unity, and determination of this simple running drill- it was more than a good sign- perhaps this is a team that can pull off the needed miracle.
The attitude of the hopefuls at tryouts was that of solidarity for the game they love and for their beloved Darfur. Hopeful Sulieman Adam Borma said: “I want the best players to go for Darfur. I hope Darfur United will be truth, not just a shirt, but to be united. But we need support, we are too far away. We hope from Darfur United a better life and freedom and to get back to our lands. If I never get a chance to go (play for the team), but my friend did, I would be happy.”
Did Borma make it? Final selections for fifteen players and five alternates are up on the team website: DarfurUnited.com