Belfast Football Tournament Unites Ethnic Communities

27 October 2021

People celebrating a football win | NICRC

A unique tournament in Northern Ireland has united communities through football.

While the Euros might have proved a big sporting draw this summer, for the past eight weeks teams representing 15 nations have competed in the second ever Northern Ireland Confederation Cup. With knockout crowds of up to 900 fans. The culmination was a celebration festival with support from the Community Relations Council’s Small Grants Scheme.

Organised by Ethnic Minority Sports Organisation NI (EMSONI) with Rosario Youth Football Club, the tournament was created by EMSONI's founder Adekanmi Abayomi, who is determined to open sports up to even greater cultural diversity.

Especially because many of the players participating in the Confederation Cup have recently moved to Northern Ireland to make it their home.

“Sport is passion,” Adekanmi said, “and when you are passionate about something it drives you organically, effortlessly and inherently. The challenge is that we always see sport from that competitive position and often neglect its power to unite people, especially at the grassroot.”

Sport is passion

The Northern Ireland Confederation Cup is a social development inter-community football initiative designed to bring communities together through football.

“People play sports without bothering themselves whether the other team or teammate is from a particular religion or political or cultural background,” Adekanmi explained. “Our Northern Ireland Confederation Cup has been able to demonstrate how relevant sport is – to good community relations.”

The tournament has a unique feel in that “winners” and “losers” still celebrate together.

Adekanmi said: “Through this project, we have seen both the winners and losers celebrating together, eating together, building relationships outside the football matches, organising get-togethers with new friends.”

In fact, the makeup of the teams has been the real winner here.

Inclusiveness, passion and participation

“Both Catholics and Protestants presented a joint team,” Adekanmi said,” with many more Catholics and Protestants playing for the ethnic minority teams and vice versa, because the formation of these communities’ teams are premised on a foundation that attracts inclusiveness, passion and participation.”

This has indeed fostered an atmosphere of acceptance of other cultures where people can then learn to co-existence. 

“We can only co-exist if we know ourselves better,” Adekanmi said. “Sharing knowledge is a two-way road. We, as migrants, need to know about the local cultures, and same with the local people who need to know about us. We are both in need of knowledge to co-exist and the best informal way to achieve this is through festivals such as our Confederation Festival.”

Notable guests in attendance at the Confederation Cup and Festival included Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Kate Nicholl, Chief Commissioner of Equality Commission NI, Geraldine McGahey, as well as Claire Hanna MP and many more.

The day ended with Timorese NI claiming the Northern Ireland Confederation Cup 2021.

Adekanmi said: “The Confederation Festival is where people can enjoy sports and also use the platform to showcase their cultures, food, music, and dance to promote cultural diversity.”

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