Somali men in Malta given the opportunity to play their favourite sport, without fear of persecution.
Football is today recognised as the most popular international sport. It is so popular that football can be seen as a global phenomenon that transcends barriers and unites people of all backgrounds and nationalities. Football is also a multi-billion dollar industry offering desirable opportunities for career development and progression around the world.
According to UNESCO and the International Charter of Physical Education, football, like all sports, “is a fundamental right for all”. In truth however, playing football comes at a high price for some. In some parts of Somalia, where Al Shabaab rules, playing football can cost people their lives. Areas which are under the control of Al Shabaab have outlawed a number of social activities – including football.
“We play football in Malta every week, two and three times a week” said Fuad, a Somali beneficiary of protection in Malta, “we sometimes have other nationalities join us, we offer our welcome to all.” Some of the Somali footballers expressed the difficulties they face adapting within Maltese society, yet the coming of people together seems to bridge these gaps and allows people to communicate in the universal language of sport.
Video: Pineapple Media
In October 2014, a group of around 25 Somali men came together to play a five-a-side football tournament at one of Malta’s leading sports facilities. Spanish and Maltese players joined in on the pitch and children gathered to watch the football game. National team goalkeeper Justin Haber, dropped by as the players took turns to attempt to score a goal. Having succeeded in the international arena, he served as an inspiration for all and reminded that “against all odds, it is possible to succeed”.
Football continues to contribute significantly towards social development and positive social change. While certain inequalities remain, the emphasis football places on fair play, team spirit and inclusion provide a strong value base that permeates beyond the football stadium walls. When speaking with the Somali youth in Malta it is remarkable to see their dedication to the sport. Their faces light up when talking about their favorite football team and they embrace the opportunity to play football freely and watch football without the fear of persecution.
“I thank Malta for giving us this opportunity to express ourselves”, says Ahmed, one of the Somali football players. Ahmed was not alone in feeling this way; there was a general sense of community and a strong feeling of closeness among those on the pitch.