Calgary police soccer match with Syrian teens ends in draw, connections
‘I like it. I like soccer, I like police. Today is good. I had fun today’
While it ended in a draw, the match between Calgary police and Syrian refugees in an exhibition soccer game Monday was about more than just who won.
The Syrian team, made up of youth aged 10 to 19, has many players who have only been in Canada for a few months. Despite some language barriers, they were able to find the words to describe their happiness.
"It is good," said 13-year-old Taha Abdullah with a smile from ear to ear.
"I like it. I like soccer, I like police. Today is good. I had fun today."
Abdullah arrived in Calgary about five months ago.
Khaleel Almoflh played soccer in Jordan until he moved to Canada six months ago.
"So good. Thank you for this Calgary," Almoflh said.
"The police were so good."
Adnan Alsalamat, also from Jordan, arrived in Calgary about 10 months ago.
"Very amazing," Alsalamat said.
"We play with the police and it is very amazing. I like it, everybody like it. We are young and they are old."
The Syrian Soccer Sons coach, Abdullah Chybli, said he asked the players to give some thought to the significance of the game and their new home.
"Most of them said they are just happy to be here, happy to be in a country where they can get on a soccer field and play and not worry about anything," Chybli explained.
He said one of the current challenges the team is facing is integration.
The young men, while doing well in school, seem to prefer staying together as a team possibly at the expense of interacting with other soccer players.
"The coaches are constantly talking about whether we should keep this team going because they are not integrating," Chybli said.
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"We play other teams, we shake hands at the end, we have some competitive nature but there is no integration."
He said the coaches are looking at ways of addressing this.
Calgary police acting Staff Sgt. Graeme Smiley said the match was an opportunity to build bridges and understanding.
"It is kind of a welcome to Canada and a discussion of how, in this case, what we have in common is a love of the game. It just breaks down barriers," Smiley said.
"Perhaps where they are from and what they know, does not involve police officers being approachable, being active members of the communities. So we see this as a great breaking down of barriers and we are thrilled that they agreed to play us."
Smiley said it's also a chance to plant a positive seed.
"We see this is a great kickoff event, it is consistent with our charitable partner the Calgary Police Foundation. They are involved in prevention, early intervention programs involving youth."
As for Chybli, when he was asked to coach the team he initially hesitated.
"I first thought, 'I don't have the time', but the second I got on the pitch with these boys I got the bug back," Chybli said.
"Once you coach you never stop, it is just an awesome feeling. You get to affect change in people's lives in a very good way."
The police aren't stopping either. On Wednesday, the team plays in the North American Police Soccer Tournament in Calgary.
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With files from Andrew Brown