EU Delegation's EU-TR Solidarity Team Won The Hearts Of The U12 İzmir Cup!
Story: Berna Çetin
Photos: Okan Kara, Berna Çetin
24 countries, 72 teams, 1300 children… Playing football to win the U12 İzmir Cup… But one team wins all the hearts: the EU-TR Solidarity Team! It is a team of 20 Syrian and Turkish children who love to play football and are supported by the EU to help the Syrian children's integration to the Turkish education system.
These 20 children received professional training from Altınordu's trainers for a month. Thanks to that training, they played friendly matches in the tournament which has been organized by Altınordu Football Club the last six years. The goal was to use the power of sports to bring children together in a team; to meet with children across the world and have an idea of setting goals for their future. After one month's training they were so excited to be in the pitch to play and make the best of this experience together with their families. One of them Abdulhakim's mother, Sabah, came from Aleppo with her 3 children a few years ago and now lives in İzmir. When I took her photo, she said "I left my smile in Syria", but her son's participation to the trainings and the tournament was her treatment to overcome the bad days.
While not being able to run during one full match in the beginning of their training they now played against professional football players under the age of 12 and really enjoyed it. They did not only learn football technics but also learned to be a team, showing friendship, sportsmanship and ethical behaviour.
"Good individual, good citizen, good sports person" is the motto of Altınordu FC and his Chairman who opened the club's doors to Syrian children who escaped war and the Turkish children who share the same classroom with them under the PIKTES project funded by the European Union. Some of the children who are going through a trauma because of the war had improved their social skills and improved their school performance even after such a short time of 1 month. According to his mother, Abdulhakim, who had been afraid of even only seeing planes, can now have a good night's sleep after many sleepless nights… This is for sure the positive effect of being dedicated to a sports and the confidence of being part of a team. Because they are taught to help their team mates and the other team members when they fall and need a helping hand even when they are playing against each other… They celebrate the winning together and deal with defeat together.
Sabah downloaded every photo and video about the U12 İzmir Cup preparations that was shared on the EU Delegation's social media accounts. She wanted her children to take part in sports; her next plan is to sign her daughter up for swimming classes. "We are safe here, we are home" she said, "Abdulhakim is so happy, he comes home and everything he talks about is this. You opened a great door for our children and now I will do my best to make sure that they continue walking through that door."
The opening ceremony of the U12 Tournament took place on 5 April in İzmir İsmet Orhunbilge Sports Center. Altınordu FC President Seyit Mehmet Ozkan said, “Everything begins with a dream. We started off on this journey years ago with only eight teams. There are now 72 teams competing in Izmir. It was all worth it for the children.”
The Head of EU Delegation, Ambassador Christian Berger participated at the opening of the U12 İzmir Cup and said "Altınordu and its President Mehmet Seyit Ozkan have been very open with us. They got these children to participate in their tournament. We launched this project with the understanding that the integration of these children into society is of crucial importance. Indeed, these children have come from a war-torn country. The country had been completely devastated. Their participation in the football tournament here has a healing impact.” Ambassador Berger added that "Education is among the top priorities in our funding efforts to deliver support to Syrian refugees living in Turkey. That’s because we understood at a very early stage the importance of education as a key factor. We would not want children to have to fend for themselves on the streets or get mixed up with extremist organizations. Education is one way to deal with this.”
U12 Izmir Cup took place between 5-7 April. 72 teams from 24 countries took part in the tournament. 1,300 children and thousands of football fans turned the tournament area into a true celebration. The event, which lasted three days, featured some of football’s top European clubs, including Milan, Parma, Lazio, Manchester City, Chelsea, Monaco, Valencia, Ajax, Lyon, Valencia, Porto, Benfica, PSV, Celtic, Rangers, Marsilya, and Zenit. The cup featured 354 matches.
Manchester City was the winner of the tournament but EU-TR Solidarity Team had taught everyone what once famous writer Paulo Coelho said "A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.”