willIt’s hard to tell where the journey of Darfur United began. I can reference when we first discussed the idea at Good Stuff in Hermosa Beach with i-ACT’s Ian Harrington. I can recall when Coach Mark Hodson first stepped onto the sandy pitch in refugee camp Djabal for team tryouts in 2012. These events may mark the beginning of the team, but the spirit of Darfur United and the will to never quit, on or off the pitch, started long before that.

Today, each team member’s will was tested greatly in our first ConIFA World Football Cup match against Padania. The final score of 20-0 doesn’t even begin to tell of the work ethic or pride these players displayed for 90 minutes against a backdrop of treelined mountains and clear lakes in Ostersund, Sweden. They never, ever quit. They challenged every ball, and some players really stood out on the pitch. Khamis and Youssouf held strong in the back. They patiently timed their tackles and quickly shut down the offensive attack, even successfully playing an off-side trap on several occasions. At the front, Yaya pushed Padania’s defenders to mark tightly and remain focused for the entire game. Despite one red card against Saleh and three penalty kicks awarded to Padania, Darfur United played every minute as if it were 0-0 and we were fighting for that winning goal.

I don’t know how many teams would have kept their focus and intensity goal after goal. I can’t say I would have been able to do it. The Darfur United team is special in so many ways, one of which is the pride they display and the understanding that DU is more than football. It’s about unifying across tribal and geographic boundaries to be part of one path forward, a path that uses communication, trust and will to create a peaceful, alternative future. The players are committed to this and know that if Darfur United remains a team, then anything is possible for the future of Darfur. This drive comes from deep within and cannot be taught.

I know the guys feel disappointed and that they might have let down their families and communities back home. I think nothing could be further from the truth. Against so many obstacles, they never quit and found themselves singing their national anthem in a stadium at the ConIFA World Football Cup. They never quit their families and communities in their refugee camps. And they believe they can change Darfur’s destiny for the better. And I believe this, too. If they were still fighting at minute 90, when the 20th goal fell, then I know they will never give up on their people.

Let us each make a commitment now to match their will to never quit and make sure we do all we can to stand beside Darfur United and the millions of displaced Darfuris.

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