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Soccer Tournament Unites South Sudanese Players, Fans

Four soccer teams of South Sudanese youth living in Kenya held an inaugural peace tournament over the weekend in Nairobi to foster brotherhood.

Members of team 22 Brothers FC, formed in 2001, ran drills ahead of their Friday match.

Richard Deng, the team captain, said they hope to blur the communal divisions underscoring the civil war back home in South Sudan.

"These are not only two tribes. There are so many tribes,” Deng said. “Almost 64 tribes of South Sudan are represented here. So 22 Brothers unites us all. We say we are 22 Brothers not because we are 22 from the team. … We consider ourselves 11 players. The other team, that's the next opponent, they are 11. When we meet in the field, we are 22, so we are brothers in the field."

Tensions have climbed in South Sudan after renewed fighting in the capital last month. Some of the players have lost relatives during the clashes.

The tournament is a metaphor for life, according to Michael Tut of Conflict Transformation for Development, the organization behind the event.

"The current situation in the country requires young people to come together … and explore other avenues, like advocating for peace,” he said.

Some of the players fled across the border to Kenya in 2013 when civil war broke out in South Sudan. Others were born in Kenya, their parents displaced by the previous conflicts — decades of civil war between Sudan and what is now South Sudan.

The majority of the fans at the tournament were also South Sudanese.

"When we come together, we look at each other as brothers,” one fan said. “We forget about what is there back in our country.”

The tournament ended Saturday. In an upset, the Young Stars FC won. The team had the least resources and the least amount of practice time — one player even doubled up as the coach.

It was a big win, but fans and players alike say the ultimate trophy will be a lasting peace for South Sudan.