'A big silver lining': Manitoba African Cup of Nations fields all-time high of 12 teams

For organizers of the Manitoba African Cup of Nations, it’s more than just a soccer tournament — it’s a way to build up the Black community and its youth. 

12 African communities will compete in the event this year

The Manitoba African Cup of Nations Soccer tournament got underway Saturday with a flag procession from the 12 African nations taking part this year. (CBC)

For organizers of the Manitoba African Cup of Nations, it's more than just a soccer tournament — it's a way to build up the Black community, especially youth. 

That's according to the tournament's founder and executive director, Gode Katembo, who has grown the representation at the yearly event over time from four African communities to 12 in the tournament's fourth year.

It got underway Saturday at the Ralph Cantafio Soccer Complex in Winnipeg. 

The benefits of the tournament are multiple, Katembo said: It's a sport showcase, sure, but also a community-builder. For African and African-Canadian youth, it's also a safe space and a mental health break, he said.

This year's tournament will also feature African art and music, not just soccer, said founder and president Gode Katembo. (CBC)

In addition to soccer matches, the tournament this year also features cultural showcases of African art and music. 

Fola Odedina was watching from the sidelines and called the event "a big silver lining." 

"There's a lot of struggle in Africa and we appreciate the togetherness that this is bringing in the midst of all the struggle, the problem[s] in the world," Odedina said. 

The Manitoba Cup of African Nations also uses the event to promote and raise money for a key outreach program. Free To Play aims to give all underprivileged youth in Winnipeg a chance to play soccer for free.

"Whatever money is to be raised here is to go to support that program," said Katembo. "Everybody is welcome as long as it's low-income youth. We believe that sporting programs — especially soccer — should be free or should be accessible to all."

The tournament is scheduled to run on weekends for the next eight weeks.