Conflict has been raging on Syria for a little over four years now. Since, more than 4.1 million people have fled the country as registered refugees, as well as people from surrounding areas, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Toronto, a city with a population that is 7.7 percent Muslim, according to the findings of the 2011 National Household Survey, has found a way to try to make the refugees feel more at home—soccer.
The team is the Syrian Eagles, a men’s team, and is affiliated with the Muslim Soccer League – Toronto. Participants are able to come together by sharing a common interest in the sport. However, it is intended to delve much deeper than soccer. Teammates are able to bond based on their experiences in Syria, both the good and the bad, their culture and their move to the city.
“I come from Egypt and I know the importance of soccer in people’s lives,” Naveen Faress, the Eagles’ founder, told a Toronto publication in June.
Soccer has always had a prominent presence in Syria. The national team made it to the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and won the 2012 West Asian Football Federation championship, yet the team’s success faltered due to the country’s civil war. However, the country was able to celebrate as Syria qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The team is controlled by the government, ruled by President Bashar al-Assad, who has been accused of torturing and killing his own people. Because of this, several players have left Syria to play elsewhere, with some banding together to develop the Free Syria National Team. It aims to officially become Syria’s national team if al-Assad leaves office.
Syria’s civil war began in 2011 with anti-government protests. President Assad and the military responded with violence, and resistance continued to boil from rebels, many of whom took up arms. Soldiers broke away from the army in favor of starting their own rebel army, the Free Syrian Army. Conflict arose from different ethnic groups, as well as religious and secular groups, such as the Sunnis and Shiites.
As a result, over 250,000 Syrians have died and over 11 million have been displaced from their homes, according to BBC. The influx of refugees has posed a new problem within itself.
“Anybody who’s not responsible for the crisis shouldn’t have to bear the consequences,” said sophomore letters and sciences major Niall Musonda. “It’s sad that so many people have to get hurt.”
Other countries have had to make the decision of whether or not they will let refugees within their borders. Turkey, which borders Syria, currently has the most refugees, with over 1.9 million, followed by Lebanon with 1.1 million. Jordan, Iraq and Egypt also have high populations of Syrian emigrants.
Canada accepted 32,737 refugees between Nov. 4, 2015, and Feb. 29, 2016, according to the government. The government informally promised to welcome 10,000 Syrians over the next three years.
The Eagles’ head coach Abdou Mousli embraces the increased population.
“Maybe next year, we should start a second team,” he said.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Syrian Eagles on Facebook.
Ayana Archie is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.