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Inaugural Community Cup soccer tournament shoots for inclusion
Players, volunteers and local dignitaries posed for a photo before the games got started at Saturday's Community Cup. (Cory Ruf/CBC)
Sunday, August 11, 2013

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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."


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