SARI AT THE WORLD CUP

The World Cup has sadly ended, but it will not be so easily forgotten. SARI youth leader Abdul Hajji tell us of his incredible yet humbling experience in Brazil, where he presented his project 'Hijabs & Hatricks' to global youth leaders from around the world. Abdul returned with many tales to tell. His favourite experiences were his encounters with the children in the favelas of Brazil. As a token of goodwill they made Abdul a football from nothing more than newspapers covered in bin bags and tied with rope, something they use daily as they are incredibly passionate about football. Abdul brought this back with him to Dublin as a reminder of his time in Brazil and he even tried to have a game with it in Croke Park!

Five years ago, before a single vuvuzela was blown in the South African World Cup, Abdulrahman Hajji was selected by his school to participate in SARI's Soccernites, beginning a journey that would eventually take him to the sunny shores of Copacabana Beach and the slums of Rio. Two years after that in 2011, Abdul traveled to Belgrade, Serbia, as part of the Third European Street Football Festival, joining the program that would eventually fund that journey.

Now, Abdul is a SARI young leader with his own project (Hijabs and Hat Tricks, which he runs with Abdul Abdallah) that Street Football World, along with Sony, has sponsored. He was recently invited to Street Football World's Future Goals Youth Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a few weeks ago to present his project to an international audience.

In front of hundreds of people, holding a mic for the first time, Abdul talked about his team of young Muslim girls, who had taken so enthusiastically to the Beautiful Game. When he was finished, he was treated to a standing ovation from the multi-national crowd, and his presentation was nominated for the best project at the conference.

More than thunderous applause or beautiful beaches, however, Abdul said that his strongest memory of his trip to Brazil was that of playing in the slum Santo Antonio in Rio. He and other leaders from Street Football World distributed footballs and played with the children there, and Abdul was so moved by what he saw that he and another leader gave their two tickets for the upcoming Brazil-Chile match to the child who was the best player and the child who played the fairest. All the children could offer in return was a single football, painstakingly made from rubbish bags, newspaper, and twine. The exchange reduced most of the parents present to tears.

The poverty of the slums, located so close to the grandeur of the stadiums, reinforced the truth that Brazil is, as Abdul said during an interview, a "divided country" with many problems left to face. After conceding ten goals in two games to exit the tournament, Brazilian football is left with questions but not answers. With enormous social and structural issues remaining unsolved after the World Cup has come and passed, the people of Brazil have some more serious soul-searching ahead of them. But for a few short days, Abdul saw how sport could unite a nation, and that is a lesson he will not soon forget.

 

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