Moncton's first games in the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup kick off Wednesday night, including a match between Nigeria and Mexico, and the local Nigerian community is using the international soccer competition to raise awareness about kidnapped girls in their home country.
"We feel that since the world is now watching and now that we can have their attention, we can use this opportunity to bring back a sense of understanding that kidnapping women is violence against women and it shouldn't be done," said Nigerian community organizer Cliff Nzombato.
"We should stand against it," he said.
More than 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped by militant group Boko Haram from a school in the northeastern village of Chibok on April 15. Most of the girls are still missing.
"We want the World Cup to come together and understand that these [soccer players] could have been part of those women that were kidnapped," said Nzombato.
"For us to just sit down and say, 'This is happening and nobody’s doing anything,' and it’s over 100 days right now, it's wrong."
To help spread the message, Nzombato was offering 15 free tickets to the Nigerian game at the University of Moncton stadium to anyone who posted the message "Bring Back Our Girls" on any public Facebook page in the Moncton community.
Omi Olanreimaju Wemimo, assistant coach to the Nigerian women's under-20 team, says she appreciates the gesture.
"The reaction about the kidnapping, well, people are not happy about it. It wasn't a good thing," she said. "The Nigerian people are trying to make it possible for the girls to come back safely."
The girls' abduction drew unprecedented international attention to the war in Nigeria's northeast and the growing security risk that Boko Haram poses to Nigeria, Africa's leading energy producer.
A #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign supported by Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie heaped pressure on authorities to act, and President Goodluck Jonathan pledged to save the girls, drawing promises of Western help to do so.
Nzombato would like the Canadian government to add pressure to help find the kidnapped girls.
Meanwhile, he has also been organizing some welcoming activities for the Nigerian players.
"As long as they're here, we would connect them to all of the resources they need. We're going to take them to the zoo. You know what? We're going to take them to Magic Mountain. They're excited to hear about Magic Mountain. The mountain that is so magical that it's the only place in the world where cars go up instead of down," he said.
On Sunday, the team enjoyed a meal of home-made Nigerian food.
Forward Patience Okaeme says it was a meal to remember.
"It's very very interesting and somehow it makes us feel at home," she said. "They are warm and nice."
Boko Haram, a Taliban-inspired movement, say they are fighting to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria. The group, whose name means Western education is sinful, has killed thousands and abducted hundreds since launching an uprising in 2009.
The FIFA U–20 Women’s World Cup began Tuesday in Toronto and Edmonton.
Moncton is hosting a doubleheader on Wednesday between England and South Korea at 5 p.m. AT, followed by the Nigeria-Mexico match at 8 p.m. AT.
About 150 tickets purchased by a local donor for Wednesday night are being distributed to Nigerians living in Moncton.
The tournament runs until Aug. 24.