Hundreds of sports lovers in Juba converged at the Juba 1 Girls Primary School basketball court on Saturday to watch a one day event dubbed “The Playing for Peace Basketball Tournament.”
The tournament was organized by a delegation from the University of Notre Dame, one of the top schools in the U.S. and famous for its rich sporting legacy. Both junior and senior teams took part. Several games were played in the course of the day, but the main game was between the South Sudan army’s Bilpam basketball club and the Juba University basketball club.
The games went from 3 p.m. and until after 8 in the evening amidst music of all sorts. Kevin Dugan is one of the event organizers from the University of Notre Dame. In South Sudan for ten days around the tournament, he says this event was inspired by student activists at the university, both South Sudanese and American’s, following a visit they all made to the U.S. president’s office at the White House in Washington last December.
“We had all the students participate in that event, sign petitions to President Obama. What we really asked for was a just and peaceful implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” Dugan told VOA courtside at the tournament.
“We ended up leading a student delegation to the White House, where we were able to talk with Samantha Power who is President Obama’s chief advisor on military and world affairs and from there we continued to advocate throughout the spring and have now taken this plan for a peace tournament to Juba in South Sudan. We couldn’t be happier with the way it has come together.”
The Director General of Sports at South Sudan’s Youth Sports and Culture Ministry, Edward Yugu Settimo, believes such tournaments could indeed help bring peace to the new nation.
“This is a start,” he said. “We are going to make it an annual event. We are going to bring the 10 states here because they are from the different tribes and different ethnic groups and we are coming to play together. When we play together this will bring peace to people, we are going to build peace through the sports.”
Kevin Dugan says that is exactly the message they are trying to promote.
“There is no doubt that national pride can be a unifying factor for all countries. And certainly for South Sudan as a new nation, that’s waited so long for their independence, the pride of wearing a national team jersey whether that be for the football team, whether that be for the basketball team and cheering for your team and your Country, that is a powerful thing that brings people together;” Dugan said.
Long Armakuei, 23, from the University of Juba, who emerged as the Most Valuable Player at the end of the day, believes he has what it takes to rub-shoulders with international stars.
“I have enjoyed it a lot and I wish South Sudanese will continue with the spirit of sports so that one day they will go to international sports leagues like the NBA [U.S.-based National Basketball Association] so that the new generation are exposed to the world,” he said. “I am really very proud today that I am being announced as the best player of Southern Sudan, next time I will work hard so that I can achieve what I want.”
The South Sudan national basketball team captain, Agel Ring Machar says that beyond promoting peace, these tournaments are also necessary for the promotion of their national team.
“It is a good thing for South Sudan basketball to have such organizations coming in here and there, chipping a little bit to develop the game,” he said. “There is raw talent in the country. There is a lot of potential. Now that we have got our independence and peace in the country, it’s just a matter of time before we become a power-house.”
That kind of optimism was rubbing off on young fans at the tournament, like 13-year-old Christopher Jada.
“I love basketball because I wanna be like Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant. In my future I want to play for my country because I want to develop basketball in South Sudan. I want to be famous all over the world,” the Primary Seven student said.
But as the promoters point out, the best way to give young players a chance, and to build up a strong national team, is for peace to prevail in South Sudan, as it emerges as a nation
The government says it will use sports activities such as basketball and soccer to engage the majority of the unemployed youth.
Like Jada, many other young South Sudanese come to this basketball court to play in hopes of becoming a professional, like fellow countrymen, Manute Bol and Luol Deng.
Click Below to hear Mugume Davis Rwakaringi's radio report from the tournament.