Bradford and Keighley

Faith and Football brining young people together

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By Ransome Oginni, Bradford and Keighley

When Brazil last won the World Cup in Yokahama in 2002, many of the team gathered in prayer on the pitch at the final whistle.  Seven years later at the Confederations Cup, attacking midfielder Kaká donned a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “I belong to Jesus”. Faith and sports is such a wonderful concept as it brings together two things that trigger of your passions and engages your heart and soul. So it was with this in mind that I decided to do a football session on faith, football and different cultures with a group of young people.

We started off by sitting in a circle and finding out a little bit about each person and where their ethnic heritage was from, it was great to see that there was so much diversity around. This gave us a good platform to build on and continue to look at the different cultures and people’s faith. We had a mixed group in terms of faith; we had some Muslims, Christians, atheist and agnostics which made it all very interesting.

We then looked at pictures of footballers from different countries and of different faiths. In the pictures they were expressing their faith by celebrating or praying, I asked the young people what they thought of this and how do they express their faith and what does their belief mean to them?

Two Muslim kids said, “it helps me be calmer”, “it helps me to be positive” and one of the Christian kids said “it helps me to know more about God and how to be good”.

The topic of faith that the kids would not usually be talking about in a football session but it was great to see them taking it all in and feeling comfortable to talk about their faith so openly. We then proceeded to play some football but it was with football with a twist.

In what called an empathy activity (like role play) the guys had to keep hold of the famous players they had been given and be that player for a game of football. They all had to score in one gaol but they could only score once I had passed the ball to them, and I would pass the ball to some players and not pass to others.  In this activity I was purposefully discriminating against certain players, I did not pass to some players because they were Brazilian and Catholic, whilst there might have been other players I chose to pass the ball to, my choices of who I would pass to would be completely random and arbitrary.

It was a bit of a mean game but discrimination of people because of their faith, race or difference is more than mean, it is unfair.

One young person who took on the role of French Muslim footballer Franck Ribéry said “I was upset, I thought to myself why isn’t he passing to me just because I am French and Muslim, that is not fair!” 

We looked at the fact that a lot of footballers in the past had to deal with racism and in some places some still do. We then broadened the concept of treating people differently based on their faith or culture and differences in general and encouraged them not to discriminate against people just because they are different to them but rather try to understand and respect those differences. Having had the experience of being discriminated against in the football game the young people said that it made them think more about others, and this is was great to hear.

As a Sports Integration Worker with Emerge (my other hat), I try and use sports and other methods to bring people from different backgrounds together.  Throughout the week, I go to different areas in Bradford and run open sport sessions in parks, courts and community centres and some of the young people we work with come to several of these different sessions.

The week after The Feast faith and football session, I went to an area in Bradford where there are two parks in close proximity to each other but sadly there is a lot of segregation in that area. It is so bad to the extent that a group of young people we work with a lot (mainly white British) will stay in one park and the other park would be used by another group (mainly South Asian Muslim kids and some Eastern European kids) but this one day as we took our usual kids to the park where they would usually play there was a large group of around 20 South Asian kids at the park already.

There were around 13 young people with us and at this stage as soon as some of them saw the other group in the park they began saying “why are they here”, “we are not playing with them lot”. I and the other youth workers with me encouraged the kids in the group we had to stay but as we got into the park it was clear to see that both groups were reluctant to play with each other and you could see there might have been a history of tension between the two groups. I saw that there was an elder gentleman there who turned out to be the Youth Leader for the Local Mosque and was taking these kids out to play football for a few hours before they had to go to the Mosque.

To cut a long story short a few of our young people left but after 5 minutes of trying to communicate the need not to segregate we proposed the idea of a rotating 5 aside football tournament on the court, the whole hour of football was played in a wonderful spirit and both sets of kids enjoyed the session a lot. It was great to see the two groups mix but for me I really enjoyed building new relationships with the other kids and the other Muslim Youth Worker who took kindly to me and invited me to meet the principle at the Mosque as well as the committee members. This all came from playing football with them and me conversating with him as the kids played football, we spoke about different topics and I also mentioned the work I do for Emerge & The Feast which he received warmly.

Another real heart-warming thing was that one of the boys who stayed was a boy who came to the faith and football session last week. At the end of the session I asked him how did he find that and he said that “he loved it, the other kids that left were silly because they just missed out on a great game of football”. When asked why he stayed he said he was unsure at first especially when the others left but he thought it would be silly to go and decided to wait whilst we tried to sort thing out with the other group. This was the one of the kids who in the empathy game we played in the faith and football session spoke a lot and I reminded him of that session and told him it was good that he did not follow his other friends and that you should not separate yourself from others just because they are different to you.

For me this was a real highlight to so quickly get a chance to see one of the kids put into practice the positive lessons we tried to teach in that session, sadly his friends with their old mentality left as they did not want to mix, but hopefully over time they will get the chance to take part in activities where they too can be educated more on such matters, who knows maybe the friend that stayed will even teach them a few things.

The Feast is working hard at taking strides to help people get along better, respect and love each other better and this is why I enjoy the work I do with the feast, for stories just like this. My prayer is that the young man who stayed will grow in his empathy for others and build positive and healthy relationships with people who are different to him and for the boys who left, I pray that they will also grow out of their fears and prejudices and will be able to communicate and build good relationships with all people.

I wish you all every blessings and I leave you with two quotes to encourage you.

People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each otherMartin Luther King Jr

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:8