Sunday, August 11, 2013
Soccer 'is a language that most of these people you see here speak,' organizer says.
Fierce competition on the soccer field doesn't always lead to friendship.
But creating strong social bonds was precisely the aim of Hamilton's inaugural Community Cup.
Billed as a "celebration of soccer, culture and the arts," the
tournament, which took place at the H.A.A.A. Grounds in west Hamilton on
Saturday afternoon, involved around 50 competitors and 20 volunteers,
the majority of whom were immigrants to Canada.
The goal of the event, said event co-organizer Leo Johnson, was to
use soccer to foster connections between newcomer youth and to help them
integrate into the broader community.
"Recreation is one of the most efficient ways of getting people to
know their community and getting them to know each other," said Johnson,
founder of Empowerment Squared, the Hamilton charity that organized the
event. "It's significant for the young ones in a big way because that's
how they start to learn the language, that's how the start to feel a
lot of value for themselves. They start to see they're actually a member
of this community and can contribute something."
Hosting a soccer tournament made sense, he said, because the game "is a language that most of these people you see here speak."
The competition boasted players who came to Hamilton from a host of
countries. Johnson said the teams featured participants from Somalia,
Sudan, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Mozambique, as well as players from
the Caribbean and those who were born in Canada.
Johnson himself is from Liberia by way of the Ivory Coast and Ghana.
He was forced to flee his birth country in 1998 because of conflict
raging there. He spent eight years living in refugee camps before moving
to Canada in 2006.
He said he plans for the Community Cup to become an annual event, and
hopes to enlist more players as well as community organizations to
participate in next year's tournament.
“We'll be having a larger tent with more involvement. We'll be
focusing more on settlement agencies in the city to give them an
opportunity to engage more."