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Football where you least expect it

Ndesanjo Macha and I were talking some months ago about strategies for getting youth around the world – and especially from Africa – involved with blogging. We ended up concluding that two of the most powerful and underutilized forces for social change are football and hiphop, and that if we wanted to help get lots of young Africans blogging, we needed to think about how to get George Weah a blog.

Reading Christian Science Monitor today, I was reminded of that conversation about football for social change. Yigal Schliefer has an article about an “African Cup” that’s taken place in Istanbul. Turkey has become an increasingly popular destination for African immigrants looking for work in Europe. As Turkey moves towards a bid for EU accession, it’s tightened its borders, and an increasing number of immigrants find that they’re not able to move on from Turkey. As a result, many of the 250,000 migrants that the International Organization for Migration speculates pass through Turkey every year (largely from Africa and the Middle East) are staying in the nation semi-permanently.

In the hopes of improving the image of African immigrants – who are often resented or misunderstood by their Turkish neighbors – organizers have started an annual football tournament, an African Cup that’s held in a small stadium in Istanbul. This year’s final pitted Nigeria against Guinea – Nigeria won 2-0. It’s unclear from Schliefer’s article whether the tournament attracted much attention from the non-African population in Istanbul, but it seems to have been a source of pride for participants and fans.

On the subject of football and social change – the Homeless World Cup just completed it’s third triumphant season in Edinburgh, with a 3-2 victory of Italy over Poland. An international “street soccer” competition, the Homeless World Cup is contended between teams of people who work for “street papers” or are or have been, homeless in the past year. Organized by the remarkable Mel Young, who founded Scottish street paper The Big Issue, the tournament is now attracting big-name sponsors and getting major international attention.

A sad note for the 2005 competition – five of the seven African teams that were slated to compete weren’t able to participate because UK visa policies prevented them from entering the country. The tournament organizers organized a set of protests, but weren’t able to sway policymakers and bring in the teams from Nigeria, Cameroon, Burundi, Kenya or Zambia. The Namibian and South African teams were able to enter the country, and South Africa will host next year’s event – in Cape Town – which may make it more likely that teams from around the world will be able to participate.

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