'Proud to play for Syria': Refugees find hope, community at Regina soccer tourney

Participation in a major soccer tournament is helping Regina feel one step closer to home for a group of Syrians.

Syria team competes at World Class Players Cup soccer tournament for 1st time

Syrian Refugee Soccer

5 years ago
Syrian refugees and those with Syrian roots come together to enter a team in the WCP Players Cup. Fans and players connect with a community through soccer. 0:46

Participation in a major soccer tournament is helping Regina feel one step closer to home for a group of Syrians.

Every year, dozens of teams take part in the World Class Players Cup soccer tournament. The World Cup-style tournament perennially includes teams like England and Canada. This year, though, for the first time, Syria is represented on the pitch.

"[It's] something that the community could come out to; something that could involve the refugees; something for them to do," Muhammad Moustapha said.

Moustapha was born in Edmonton, but his dad is Syrian. That heritage and his volunteer work at the Regina Open Door Society inspired him to start the team.

Since December 2015, more than 600 refugees from Syria have come to Regina.

"The community is very, very interested in soccer. That's one big thing: They all love to play soccer," Moustapha said.

Moustapha said playing in the tournament is about more than fun and games.

"They want to be part of the community. They want to work. They want to enjoy Canada," he said. "They're really proud to be able to come here [and] really fortunate, of course, from where they're coming from."

While there was no shortage of interest, there was a lack of money. Luckily for the players, an anonymous donor put up the money for Syria to register a team.

Meet the player: Hussein Almoulia

Hussein Almoulia has had a passion for soccer since he was a kid growing up in Homs, Syria.

"When I was in Syria, my dream was [to be] a professional player," he said. "But after the war, I stopped playing. I didn't have time to do soccer. I start to work to help my parents to live."

Syrian refugees were able to form a team at the World Class Players Cup soccer tournament in Regina. (Peter Mills/CBC)

Almoulia and his family fled from their home in 2011.

"Nobody can believe what happened over in Syria. Nobody knows, like, the fighting there," he said. "I was so mad about leaving my home."

Almoulia spent two years living in a refugee camp in Lebanon before coming to Canada about two years ago.

When he first left Syria, Almoulia thought he may be able to return home some day. Now, he's only concerned about starting a new life.

"I try to build my life here in Canada because I'm young," he said. "New friends; new community; a new everything."

He said the hardest part has been trying to adapt to Canadian life as quickly as possible.

"When we come here, we can't speak; we can't talk; we can't chill with a friend. But now I have the language and I can talk with a friend and I have fun."

Meet the player: Morhaf Altleis

Morhaf Altleis has been in Canada for two years.

"I left [Syria] since I was 10 years old and then I went to Jordan. I lived in Jordan for two years and then I came to Canada," he said.

Many of the soccer players on Team Syria have only been in Canada for two years after fleeing their war-torn homeland. (Peter Mills/CBC)

Altleis said a lot of his family was able to find a new life scattered around Canada and the United States, but his aunt is still living in Syria, while other family members remain in Jordan.

"We have nothing to do so we have to leave," he said. "Otherwise, we would die there. If we stayed there, we would die."

Playing soccer in Regina has been an incredible experience for Altleis.

Part of the fun: Playing in front of hundreds of people. WCP Cup games are known to get loud as fans of all countries cheer on their teams.

"It's a nice thing, you know, to play in front of people and they're cheering for you," Altleis said.

For Almoulia, getting a chance to be a part of that community has been uplifting.

"I'm so proud to do that. I was, like, nervous because it's my first time, but I'm so proud to play for Syria ... I'm so proud for myself."


Peter Mills is an associate producer at CBC Saskatchewan and the host of the Meet The Riders podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TweeterMillsCBC. Do you have a story idea? Email