Darfuri refugees are about to fulfill their dream of playing in an international soccer competition: the upcoming Viva men’s World Cup
for stateless teams. For team members of Darfur United, it will be the culmination of years of practice, logistical challenges and surviving the horrors of conflict.
Sixteen players wearing donated green sweat suits have recently been on a marathon journey from refugee camps in Chad to the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, where the fifth edition of the Viva World Cup will take place from June 4 - 9.
It has been an incredible journey as well for Gabriel Stauring, a Californian and Darfur activist, who came up with the social media, donation and celebrity powered-idea now reaching its intended destination.
“We thought that it would be just a great vehicle to bring attention to the refugee situation," Stauring explained, "and what they have been through on one hand but also just to give the refugees who have been stuck in these camps now going on nine years just something positive and hopeful to participate in.”
Gabriel Stauring, pictured here with two refugees, Rahma and Murtada, has been coordinating the Darfur United effort. (Photo courtesy i-Act charity)
Violence continues in Sudan's western Darfur region where hostilities broke out in 2003. Over a quarter-million Darfuris have fled to eastern Chad.
In a video on the Darfur United blog
, forward Sulieman Adam Borma said he and his teammates would act as ambassadors during their journey (watch full video below
“Maybe some visitors will ask us, you are refugees in Chad, can you describe how the life is, what is the difference between here and there? I think this is a moment of history," Borma said. "We hope to tell everybody the history of Darfur, how we made Darfur United, and how we got here, who supports us, who is helping us and what we hope will happen.”
Sports figures who have contributed to the Darfur United project include U.S. basketball star Tracy McGrady and British soccer icon David Beckham.
Project coordinator Stauring says he is getting goose bumps thinking of when Darfur United's players will kick off their tournament Tuesday against a team representing North Cyprus.
“When I told them about this project, one of them said, 'now I feel like we belong to the world.' So to think of them at this stage and all the refugees back home thinking about them it is more than exciting,” Stauring said.
Other African teams in the nine-team tournament will represent Western Sahara and Zanzibar.
After the competition, Darfur United plans to hold more matches in Chad, train other refugees, and start a pilot soccer program for Darfuri refugee girls.