Canada African Cup of Nations soccer league hosts 1st-ever awards gala to celebrate youth players

Manitoba's all-African soccer organization held its first-ever youth awards gala Thursday night.

Between 150 and 200 attended the red carpet event at Caboto Centre

From left to right: Samuel Kitonyo (board member), Gode Katembo (president and founder), and Seidu Mohammed (operations director) pose on the red carpet at Canada African Cup of Nations' first-ever youth awards gala. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Canada's African Cup of Nations hosted its first-ever youth awards gala Thursday night to celebrate the league's successes since its Manitoba-based inception in 2019.

The soccer league's teams and coaches gathered at the Caboto Centre for a night of food, music, and awards.

"[It's] to celebrate young people, their achievements in the community. They put in a lot of hours practising, playing as well," organizer Samuel Muyisa said.

Originally called the Manitoba African Cup of Nations, the non-profit organization was created for the Black community in Winnipeg. Many of the players, coaches and volunteers are newcomers. 

"Most [players] come here as refugees. They don't have the means to play. So we decided to be like, OK, we're going to put on something that they can actually play [in], bring the community together, remove some kids from gangs and streets like that," Muyisa said.

The organization hosts an annual tournament, with teams representing their home countries. The awards gala is to celebrate the players who participated in the 2022 tournament, which had a record number of teams.

The league meets on Saturdays at Gordon Bell High School, and is open to youth ages 11 to 17. Registration is free, supported in part by the adult league registration fees and events like Thursday night's gala.

Muyisa grew up playing soccer in Winnipeg, and knows that there are financial barriers for newcomers who want to play sports.

"We have people who were supporting us as we were growing up here. From a low income family, you know, playing sports … it gets very expensive. So we do it for free if people want to bring their kids," he said

Some awards presented at the gala include most valuable player, upcoming player of the year, and coach of the year. 

Volunteers who help run the soccer programs were also recognized at the gala.

"Tonight is a remarkable moment," Gode Katembo, president and founder of the cup of nations.

"It's the night that we celebrate the achievement of our youth that participated in the tournament [and] to celebrate the success of African people coming together," Katembo said.

The organization is planning to host an All Nations Cup tournament, to bring together communities from all corners of the world.

With files from Austin Grabish