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Ramadan Cup competition unites Brisbane Somali community ‘passionate about soccer’

Spectators at yesterday’s Ramadan Cup grand final had a saying: every Somali was born with a soccer ball in their hands.

The tournament culminated in yesterday’s grand final, where Brisbane United narrowly defeated Future Stars United in a thrilling showdown.

But the 10-year-old Ramadan Cup is no ordinary soccer tournament – during Ramadan, Muslims across the world fast from sunrise until sunset, allowing no food or water to pass their lips, as a way to worship God.

To make sure players have enough energy, the Ramadan Cup is played on a small field with only seven players per side, for 60 minutes, compared to the usual 90 minutes.

And players were not kicking to win, so much as to connect with each other and their faith.

‘Passionate about soccer’

The Somali Community Association of Queensland (SCAQ) started the competition in 2013.

SCAQ president Faysel Ahmed Selat said at the time, many young Somalians had recently arrived in Australia through third nations, after fleeing civil war in their own country.

“As a community, given we grew up in different countries … it’s very important that we stay together,” he said.

SCAQ turned to sport to bring the community together and divert young, at-risk men from turning to harmful pathways.

“Young people from Somalia, they are passionate about soccer and we as a community, we know that they love soccer — and then we use football as a tool to engage with them,” Mr Selat said.

“Coming together, having this competition, helps them … to build their confidence and skill, improve their self-esteem, networks, friendship, and see other people who look like them doing well in Australia.

“To be honest … Ramadan Cup helps a lot of people — otherwise they could have been doing drugs and alcohol.”

Now supported by the community liaison team of the Australian Federal Police, Mr Selat said the annual competition drew crowds of up to 300.

There is no sledging from the sideline here — spectators and players alike are on their best behaviour, because they are observing Ramadan.

“It is a month of kindness, generosity, respect and reflection — it’s important that we look after people living around us, like, regardless of religion,” Mr Selat said.

Playing in the tournament brings Brisbane United striker Zaki Ahmed the strength to sail through the month of fasting.

“It’s good to be around your own people, people who are fasting as well,” he said.

Mr Ahmed said it was easy to be distracted and idle at home “but here everyone calls you up on what you’re doing wrong, what you’re doing right”.

“There’s no swearing here, there’s no fighting, there’s no toxic behaviours or things that you’re distracted [by ]… it’s a good way of having that positive people around you and making sure that you’ve got clean thoughts,” Mr Ahmed said.

Future Stars United centre back and coach Mahad Mowlid Mussa said hunger and thirst had not put him off his game.

“Your body gets used to it, so it’s basically normal — normally we play better on Ramadan when we’re fasting … because you’re empty, you feel completely light,” he said.

He said the best part of the tournament was seeing old friends who share a common background with him.

“I’m more happy that I go there and see all these young boys that I haven’t seen for a long time — all my friends that I haven’t seen for more than a year,” Mr Mussa said.

“It keeps it keeps them away from a lot of trouble — they learn from the older ones, come together talk to each other.

“It’s not only football, it’s gathering together.”

AFP Community Liaison Team’s Detective Leading Senior Constable Shane Johnson and Detective Sergeant Le-Anne McKinnon provided the Cup itself.

Detective Johnson said they hoped their involvement helped build a sense of belonging in Australia.

“Police — we traditionally approach work activities and investigations with a traditional police mindset but that’s dating back many decades and what Australia used to look like is very different today — and we need to approach things today differently to get a better outcome,” he said.

“There’s lots of myths and hurdles to dispel between diverse communities and policing in general.”


Playing in the tournament brings Brisbane United striker Zaki Ahmed the strength to sail through the month of fasting.(ABC News: Lucas Hill)

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