By Dan Plouffe
If all the participants at the Ravens Community Cup and Capital City FC’s community day wind up with anything close to the kind of successful immigration story that Ahmed Hassan has built in Canada, then organizers of the Ontario Soccer Association’s soccer and settlement program would be more than thrilled.
Of course, it’s not an easy path for all newcomers to Canada, but the captain of Halgan FC – one of 12 teams with origins from around the world that participated in the last month’s event that sought to connect new and established Canadians through soccer at Carleton University – serves as a prime example of what hard work can achieve.
Hassan, the oldest of nine siblings in his family raised by a single mother, moved to Canada from East Africa at age 14. Everyone in Hassan’s family finished high school and went on to study in college or university, including his studies in biochemical technologies.
Now with a family of his own in Orleans, Hassan says the key to success for him was staying focused and dedicated to life goals. He laughs as he recalls one day in his first winter when he trudged over to Gloucester High School only to find out it was too cold even for Canadians to open the school.
“My principal was shocked that I showed up for school,” Hassan smiles. “He said, ‘Didn’t you watch TV last night? It’s minus-54, what are you doing here? ’”
A strong family bond was another big reason the Jasmine Crescent residents in Gloucester thrived in their new surroundings.
“We stuck together through thick and thin,” Hassan notes, adding that his mom was the one most responsible for that strong link. “She’s the best mother anyone could ever ask for.”
Sport didn’t play a very big role in Hassan’s transition to Canadian life when he first moved. He did play soccer at high school, but he wasn’t aware of any other opportunities with community teams or other organized soccer.
“Soccer wasn’t as popular in Canada,” Hassan says. “But in the last 16 years, I’ve seen this boom in soccer here.”
With some of his Halgan FC teammates having arrived in Canada less than six months ago, he sees the Community Cup as a great tool to welcome newcomers.
“In order to introduce them and integrate them to society, this is the best way to do it,” explains Hassan, whose team won the tournament over Ascorcan in the final. “Sports and music I find unite people more than anything else in the world.”
A FAMILIAR GAME
That’s the whole idea behind the OSA’s Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration-sponsored initiative, notes project coordinator Javier Clavelo.
“Soccer is such a natural draw because they already bring their experience from their native countries,” explains Clavelo, who recently moved to Ottawa from Cuba himself. “It’s amazing how through the power of sport, and in particular soccer, they are able to bridge those gaps and join a big family of soccer in this city.”
With transportation and registration costs covered for the Community Cup, Clavelo adds that it offers an opportunity to remove the hurdles “that would normally prevent new Canadians from joining that family,” while introducing them to how the soccer system works in Canada at the same time.
Numerous local clubs took part in the pair of events, including Ottawa South United players, national team member Christina Julien of the Ottawa Fury – who presented the trophy to the Community Cup champions – and of course, Capital City FC, who welcomed new Canadians aged 9-12 to their final regular season game.
The Carleton Ravens also donated ticket and concession revenue from their soccer game on the same day as the Community Cup to East Africa famine relief.
The new soccer and settlement initiative, which began in Ottawa, will expand to the Toronto area next year. Coach, referee, and learn-to-play clinics, school visits, and other community events are all part of the plan, including a November event at Franco-Cité high school.
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