Organisers of a multicultural football tournament this weekend have said it will help bring young people together.
The foundation of former Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand has teamed up with refugee and migrant communities in Northern Ireland to deliver a youth leadership football event in Co Armagh on Sunday.
Fifteen young people from the Syrian community will be in charge of a cross-community five-a-side football tournament in Portadown’s People’s Park, where it is expected to welcome around 170 young footballers.
The event is being delivered by NI Hyatt, which supports refugee and migrant communities in Armagh and Down, the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, the PSNI and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.
It is part of Uefa Foundation’s Youth In Action programme, which offers activities, training and accreditation to young people to deliver community action projects that promote social inclusion, community cohesion and tackle racism across Northern Ireland.
It won’t just be all football, however, with the event being billed as a celebration of young people’s achievements and a way to broaden cultural horizons, with each participant also enjoying a picnic lunch featuring traditional Syrian cuisine.
Sunday’s tournament provides an opportunity for both local and migrant teams of young people to compete for trophies and will include teams of Syrian and East Timorese players from the Newry and Dungannon Youth In Action projects.
NI Hyatt’s volunteer director, Ligia Parizzi, said the organisation held a focus group with migrant communities last year, which led to Sunday’s event.
There was a huge demand for a sports-related event to help young people develop their skills and NI Hyatt worked with the Rio Ferdinand Foundation to help organise the football tournament.
Ms Parizzi added that the event will not only bring together migrant communities, but also young people from Northern Ireland.
“The young people were very isolated and they felt very affected by Covid - not only coming from a vulnerable background but it was exacerbated by a lack of social interaction,” Ms Parizzi told the Belfast Telegraph.
“We teamed up with some of our friends at the PSNI and the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, and we successfully ran an online leadership skills course for 15 young Syrians.
“They were all buzzing from it - even though it was online - because of the interaction with each other.
“They were learning, they really developed their skills and they thought it would be nice to do a tournament at the end of it all.
“We pulled the tournament together but it’s very much a young people-led initiative. It’s all about putting their skills into practice.”
Founder and patron of the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, Rio Ferdinand, said it is important to create inclusive communities and support young people to build their skills.
“Our partnership with the Uefa Foundation helps us to support young people to tackle racism and it is good to see communities in Northern Ireland embrace that approach,” he said.
“I would like to congratulate the young people involved in delivering the event in Portadown for their hard work and training to date and look forward to seeing the results of their work in the future.”
The football tournament will take place from 10am to 3pm on Sunday, while the Rio Ferdinand Foundation hopes to bring similar events across Northern Ireland next month in conjunction with the Uefa Super Cup, which is being held at Windsor Park on August 11.