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Darfuri Refugees to Compete for First Time at 2012 VIVA World Cup Soccer Tournament

“Now we are part of the world,” says Darfuri Elder and Camp Leader

Refugee Camp Djabal, Eastern Chad (May 24, 2012) — Until several months ago, Darfur didn’t even have a soccer team or perhaps even hadn’t dreamed of one. Now after weeks of try-outs and training, Darfur United, a team comprised solely of Darfur refugees, will compete for the Nelson Mandela Trophy at the 2012 VIVA World Cup in Erbil, Iraqi-Kurdistan, June 5-9.

Many of the young men on Darfur United have only played on the desert sand, with bare feet and makeshift balls. On June 5th they will run out into the 28,000 seat Franso Hairi Stadium and play on a real field for the first time, against teams from Monaco, Tamil, Kurdistan, Occitania, Southern Cameroons and other nations.

“The Darfur United players have had nothing positive to celebrate and have been losing hope of any future beyond the confines of the refugee camp,” says Gabriel Stauring, Director of iACT, which is partnering with Aid Still Required to bring the team to Iraq. “This team means so much more to them than just a game of football. It gives all refugees something to celebrate, and it gives them a connection to the outside world.”

Anticipation is growing widely in the Darfur camps in advance of VIVA. Every day refugees line the area where their team practices. One elder, describing the pride permeating the camps, said, “Now we are part of the world.”

Souleyman Adam Bourma, a refugee from camp Goz Amer who tried out for Darfur United, put it this way: “I am very excited. I cannot express my feelings. We heard about this team six months ago, and today it’s truth.”

Sponsors and donors include adidas, UNHCR, David Beckman, Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS Works (Major League Soccer Foundation), EVO Soccer Programs and many individuals. “Everyone who hears this story is moved by it,” says Hunter Payne, co-founder of Aid Still Required.

Sixty-one players from all twelve refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border participated in try-outs for sixteen spots on the team roster. “Every single one of our players has the story of having their village attacked, of seeing family and friends being killed, mothers, sisters being raped in front of them, and then having to walk across the desert to survive and make it to one of these camps,” says Stauring. “They just make balls out of anything – some socks or some rubber that they put together – and they play.”

Darfur United Coach Mark Hodson is both optimistic and realistic. “The level of talent is impressive, especially considering the facilities and resources available to the players. Everyone came ready to play, and they didn’t need asking twice to produce their best level of effort.

“For me the greatest prize from this mission will be to see the team step out onto the field wearing their Darfur United uniforms. To get 16 refugees from 12 different camps to one location is a feat in and of itself. Those not in the know will never understand how difficult this is to accomplish. From that, the selection and training process has provided moments of joy and euphoria that the team and volunteers will forever share.

“This group of players has suffered incredible sadness and hardship. There is no sign that their situation is going to improve any time soon….but they still carry a tremendous pride and sense of responsibility and a hope, that what they are doing will create a new path and joy for the people of Darfur, and it is an honor to be involved!”

On May 31st, Darfur United will travel from Chad to Iraqi Kurdistan for the Cup. Most o