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Soccer teams ‘Play for Peace’

Mel Flanagan | Sunday, November 6, 2011

South Bend community members from every inhabited continent gathered with Notre Dame students Saturday to participate in a soccer tournament to raise awareness for peace and diversity.

Playing for Peace sponsored Saturday’s tournament, which was organized into a “miniature World Cup” format.

Some teams, like team Rwanda, were comprised of members from that country, while other teams were made up of members of mixed nationalities. Teams composed of Notre Dame students chose a country to represent for the tournament.

Kevin Dugan, manager of youth and community programs for the athletic department, said the tournament exemplified the focus of Playing for Peace this year — to build community relations around the platform of sports.

“The idea of the tournament was to bring together people from all over South Bend from different ethnic backgrounds and to welcome and celebrate that,” he said. “You don’t realize just how beautiful and diverse our own community is.”

Sixteen teams and four Special Olympics teams took part in the 7-on-7 tournament. Playing for Peace also held a youth soccer clinic for 80 South Bend children.

“It’s such an enriching experience when you can get this many people from so many parts of the world all coming together to celebrate the game that they love, to celebrate soccer and develop new friendships and relationships and strengthen the sense of peace and friendship in the community,” Dugan said.

Dugan said Playing for Peace partnered with Red Cross for the tournament to connect with the many international residents and refugees living in the South Bend community. The participants included players from every Central American country, Saudi Arabians, Rwandans and Egyptians, among dozens of other nationalities.

“[The refugees] are so excited to be here playing the game they love in an organized way,” Dugan said. “At the same time they’re representing their country and really getting into the world cup format.”

The four teams that advanced to the semifinals were Albania, Italy, South Africa and Rwanda. Albania and South Africa made it to the final round, and Albania won the game 3-2, scoring in the final minute.

Olieir Ishimwe, a native of Rwanda who now lives in Mishawaka, played on a team representing his home country with other Rwandese.

“We believe in peace and we believe in trying to come together and [the tournament] was all about that,” Ishimwe said. “It was all about peace and getting together and if we believe in that we should come and join the others in this tournament.”

Sophomore Colleen Haller represented Sudan in the tournament. Haller said her team participated in the Co-Rec soccer league earlier in the year and wanted to continue playing together.

“When we found out about the Playing for Peace tournament we liked the idea of coming out and representing a country for a good cause,” she said.

Haller said she enjoyed playing against community members in the games.

“I think it’s a great idea for the students to actually meet some of the people who live here in the community,” she said. “It’s a really great opportunity for us to be able to play sports together.”

Some participants aimed to form teams of all different backgrounds rather than teams of a single nationality.

Manar Jbara, a refugee from Iraq, organized a team of players from all over the world, including Sudan, the United States and countries from South America.

“There are people from all continents here to play soccer and promote peace,” Jbara said. “They can just play and enjoy their time here today. Soccer and sports can do that, they can make magic.”