Syrian refugees join teams for annual soccer tournament

‘We can meet people from different countries, with different beliefs, hairstyles, dress’

UNHCR and Sport Against Racism Ireland marked World Refugee Day with the 8th Fair Play Cup in Dublin's law society.


Whoops of joy echo around the walls of Dublin’s Law Society gardens as the Rohingya football team from Carlow throw high fives and slap each other on the back in celebration. The male team, made up of players from the minority ethnic Muslim Rohingya group that resettled in Ireland in 2009, have just scored their second goal against the Syrian team from Ballaghaderreen. The men shake hands and head towards the sidelines as two more teams spread out across the pitch ready to kick off the next seven-a-side game.

Shiar Mohamad, a 29-year-old economics student from Aleppo who arrived in Ireland two months ago, travelled the 2½ hours from Ballaghaderreen in Co Roscommon early on Sunday morning to play in the Sports Against Racism Ireland Fair Play football cup. The annual sporting event, held in Dublin to mark World Refugee Day, invites teams from refugee and community groups, direct provision centres, NGOs and media organisations to take part in the tournament with this year’s cup attracting 20 teams from across Ireland.

Mohamad first met some of his team mates last year in a Greek refugee camp. He fled Syria in 2015 and crossed the border into Turkey before embarking on a perilous boat journey to southern Europe.

“I can’t express how it was; it was awful. You are going on a journey and you don’t know what is at the end. There were only supposed to be 40 people on the boat and we were 70. It terrified me.”

Refugee status

More than a year later, Mohamad is standing on a grass bank overlooking the law society gardens wearing the red jersey of his favourite football club, Liverpool. He says the local Roscommon community has been very welcoming but that he is looking forward to getting refugee status and returning to his studies.

“It’s very good to have this type of event, you can meet people from different countries and cultures. The style of living here is very different but . . . it’s our journey, we have to get used to it. It’s a new life.”

Across the playing fields, Amina Moustafa, one of the members of the Diverse City women’s football club, is warming up ahead of the match against the Kilkenny women’s team. Moustafa has played with Diverse City since its inception in 2014 following football world-governing body Fifa’s decision to lift the ban on head covers during matches in 2014. The team began as an outlet for Muslim women to play soccer but has grown into a multicultural football club with players from around the world, says Moustafa.

“What we’re hoping with the team is that players come in and build their confidence in terms of football and self-esteem. A lot of the girls hadn’t joined a team before because they didn’t want to be the only ones wearing headscarves when playing football. It’s an opportunity for people who might be a bit shy to go to training.”

Pasquinna Sida, who is playing on the opposing Kilkenny women’s team, says Sunday’s tournament is important for raising awareness in Ireland about refugees.

“People need to know that there are other people in this world suffering who are in need of support,” says Sida, who came to Ireland with her family as a refugee from South Sudan nine years ago. “Here [at the tournament] we can meet people from different countries, with different beliefs, different hairstyles, different dress, different everything. Our Kilkenny team, most of us are refugees, so this is important for awareness.”