What’s making Somali youth ties stronger?

Mohamed warms up in the final practices before leaving for Minnesota. Photograph: Rafsanul Hoque
Mohamed warms up in the final practices before leaving for Minnesota. (Photograph: Rafsanul Hoque)

You cannot ignore the popularity of soccer in Seattle right now – Soccer is transforming the Somali youth community to achieve solidarity among themselves and foster positive values.

Sitting on the mundane gallery of Foster High School playground, I follow the turf pitch made for football, yet apparently being used for soccer. 22 year old Mohamed is working his way up and down the pitch. His composure and reading of the game is evidence of his long experience on the ground.

“I have been playing soccer since I was seven or eight, maybe” explains Mohamed, a Somali Seattleite. “There was something to do after school you know, get going somewhere, an excuse to get out of the house. If you become good at it you can really focus and keep your mind off from other stuff.”

Mohamed is part of the champion team FC Northern Stars which won the Somali Soccer League in Seattle and represented Seattle in the Minnesota Cup of Nations. The Minnesota Cup of Nations is a soccer tournament represented by Somali teams from other states, part of a week-long series of events under the umbrella of “Somali Week”. It’s regarded as one of the biggest Somali reunions in the United States, said Mohamed, just before leaving for Minnesota. He also sees it as an opportunity for bonding among Somalis all across the country.

“I would not know any of these people if I hadn’t come to play here. Now I know a large part of the community. When I go to Minnesota I get to meet with another large community who come from throughout the country. It’s exciting that you start getting to know so many people.”

FC Northern Stars are representing Seattle in the Minnesota Cup of Nations. Picture courtesy: facebook page of “Somali Soccer of Seattle”
FC Northern Stars are representing Seattle in the Minnesota Cup of Nations. (Picture courtesy: facebook page of “Somali Soccer of Seattle”)

Soccer is growing as popular sport in the US as over 13 million Americans playing soccer in the United States has made it the third most played team sport here. Abid Rahman, soccer director for non-profit called Companions Athletics explains how Soccer in Seattle is becoming extremely popular these days. “If you had come around Tukwila during a EURO 2016 game, you’d be able to figure out how people love soccer here. You can go around a couple coffee shops and realize how much people are involved in soccer. When the local rivals are playing against each other, this gallery becomes packed with Somali supporters.” The soccer craze is even more evident these days during the Seattle Sounders home games. The pounding claps and enthusiastic screams from the crowd of forty thousand during the recent home game against LA Galaxy resonated the growing love for soccer among Seattleites.

The crowd is raging behind the Seattle Sounders goal against LA Galaxy on 9th July, 2016. Photograph: Rafsanul Hoque
The crowd is raging behind the Seattle Sounders goal against LA Galaxy on 9th July, 2016. (Photograph: Rafsanul Hoque)

For a community where many have had difficulties in “getting along” in this country and felt left out of the culture, soccer has helped them create a sense of identity. Soccer has also helped to implement better values. As Mohamed mentions “soccer keeps your mind off of bad things, keeps you safe, it keeps you busy.” Abid explains one of his core objectives is to try to keep kids off the streets, “that’s one of the main objectives that Companions Athletics was formed for. “Some of these kids, unfortunately, they end up on the wrong path. And with all the programs like basketball and football, it distracts them. It gives them something to do, in the companionship of good friends. Ever seen a kid smoking in front of a soccer pitch? Probably not.”

Despite the growing popularity, there is not enough representation of Somalis in the professional leagues. “In the context of US soccer you need to be rich to be playing in the high level teams” explains Abid. “The Somali families cannot pay the four-thousand-five-thousands (dollars) that you need to get good facilities in your early career. That’s why we volunteer in our free time to give these kids a platform so that they can compete against them too and make a change.”

Through such initiatives of volunteerism, enthusiasm, eagerness and dedication the Somali soccer community is instilling values of solidarity, leadership, resilience and harmony.

As the Somali community foster themselves through solidarity and companionship, soccer makes marks on the lives of small Somali children who are learning life values through sports. Mohamed reflects on his life opportunities that he has received from soccer, and then quickly gets back to the game. He has a big responsibility to represent Seattle now.

This story was produced by a student in the “Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI)” program, a collaboration between The Seattle Globalist and FIUTS, supported by the U.S. Department of State. The program brings 20 undergraduates from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Nepal to Seattle. Participants study journalism and new media, and participate in volunteer and service activities, leadership workshops, and cultural excursions. The story is an example of student work and has not yet been through the Seattle Globalist’s standard editing and fact-checking process.