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Somali soccer tournament celebrates unity; works to keep boys from extremists

Saturday March 26, 2016

Soccer brings the world together.

That's how Columbus Crew brand ambassador and former player Frankie Hejduk summed it up as he listened to tournament organizers speak in Somali and then English to welcome all the players and fans who are in town this weekend for four days of games.

"We may not speak the same languages, but we do with this thing," Hejduk said of soccer."This is bringing the world together."

And with that, the 16th annual Columbus Indoor Soccer Cup got under way on Thursday. The tournament will run through Sunday at Stars Indoor Sports at 6124 Busch Boulevard, and is free and open to the public.

The soccer tournament is dedicated to celebrating unity and achievement in central Ohio's Somali community, which is the second-largest in the nation. An estimated 1,000 players from teams in multiple states and Toronto, Canada are signed up to compete.

The tournament attests to the abiding love that Somali-born immigrants and Somali-Americans have for soccer. It's also intended to keep young men grounded and focused so they do not become susceptible to extremist groups that would seek to radicalize them, said Leebaan "Lee" Osman.

"I have a son; it would kill me to see my son radicalized by other men," said Osman, a 31-year-old North Side resident who has played in the tournament and now helps to organize it.

In the years since it was founded, the tournament has become the biggest Somali soccer tournament in North America, according to organizers. It features teams playing in three leagues: juniors, 10-14 years old; the youth group, ages 15 to 30; and the senior group for players older than 30.

It's funded entirely by business sponsors and other donors, including the Flickinger Legal Group, whose father-and-son lawyers Russell and Justin Flickinger have a large practice in the Somali community.

Another sponsor, Mursal Dhudhi, who owns Home Health Care Alliance of Ohio on the North Side, said soccer is central to Somali culture. "We all grew up playing soccer at home," he said. For young men, he said, "If you don't play soccer, girls don't talk to you."

The players are excited to be competing.

"It is a big deal to me," said Malik Ahmed, 25, of the West Side, as his Young Africans team prepared to take on the Minnesota Tigers. "It's an attitude, a passion. We love to do it."

Abdisalam Abdullahi, an 18-year-old North Side resident playing on the Ohio United team, shares that passion. "It's everything to us," he said.


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