The underdog is often the team to watch at international sports tournaments. Having risen above challenges and shown up the naysayers, triumphs are sweeter, even when the victory is just having made it so far. The VIVA World Cup, a tournament for teams not represented in the official soccer world—from Northern Cyprus, to Western Sahara, to Tibet—features perhaps more inspiring stories of overcoming adversity than most. But this year, Darfur United will no doubt stand out as a team that truly beat the odds.
The team of 15 players, ranging in age from 18 to 28, has been training in the Darfuri refugee camps in eastern Chad in preparation for the tournament, which will be held in Iraqi Kurdistan in June. All of the Darfuri players were children when they escaped Sudan amid the government-sponsored violence that left villages burned to the ground and family and friends dead and displaced. They now live in 12 different refugee camps scattered near the border, but they will represent all Darfuris when they compete for the Nelson Mandela trophy next month.
i-ACT, an Enough Project and Darfur Dream Team partner, has worked to build Darfur United and is traveling to eastern Chad this week for the final preparations before the tournament. They shared this video about Darfur United:
Last month, Enough featured a guest blog post by Brian Cleveland, a middle school social studies teacher in Seymour, Connecticut, who recently returned from eastern Chad where he worked as a coach for Darfur United and helped select the top 15 players from across the refugee camps to join the team. Seymour Middle School, where Cleveland also coaches basketball and soccer, has raised more than $1,300 this year for its sister school, Choula A primary school in Goz Amer refugee camp.
“Many of our players exclaimed about how this was the first time refugees from each of the 12 camps were brought together," Cleveland wrote about the visit. "Darfuri people have something to root for and be proud of, our players said—an opportunity for the world to hear a positive story of Darfur. The team and I hope that, through the beautiful game of soccer, Darfur United can fulfill its name and give Darfuris a chance to tell their story on an international level.”