Shaab Stadium, Baghdad December 17th 2008
Standing on the playing field of Iraq's Sha'ab National Stadium surrounded by young people from all the different communities of the capital, I was once again filled with hope. A few months ago these young men would have put their lives at risk by simply taking part in this game with youngsters from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. On this day - they stood with me as one nation - united on the famous field that all young Iraqis dream of playing on.
These young men represent a new chance for Iraq built upon a united effort. This is the new Iraq where divisions can be the things of the past and the feeling of playing together is greater than our individual differences. This is the new Iraq where we learn from our shared history and build the future together for ourselves.
FC Unity's 'Hope Tour', devised back in 2006, has come of age, breaking down barriers that divided our society through the power of this simple game. Young Iraqis of all backgrounds were united in the feeling of new hope for a return to normal life. As the two captains shook hands their smiles were genuine and there camaraderie lasted beyond the duration of this symbolic game.
The year of 2008 was eventful for me and for Iraq. I will never forget the smiles and laughter of the young players in Najaf and Baghdad. The project indicators were not just written on paper but were coming to life before my eyes in the transformed attitudes of Iraqi youth. This was the real benefit; creating a new chance for Iraqi youth to feel united in hope that will provide the productive motivation for the future. What more can we do?
The answer is evident from our work in the field. We need to give young Iraqi men and women the chance to shape their own future and provide them with the opportunities to rebuild the country from the ground up. We need to empower them and provide the mentoring and motivation to create strong positive communities with responsible and able citizens and to instill in them the values necessary for a more sustainable future. We need to give them the life-skills to achieve the goals inherent in their individual potential.
This is not the time for promises to fail or for token gestures. This is a time for action. To build on what we have achieved and to empower the present generation and give young people the confidence through good authority and self-discipline to become the leaders of tomorrow. This human resource will secure the future of the Iraqi nation as an international community partner and as viable secular, pluralist, liberal democracy, where all citizens enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities.
To make our dream a reality will not be easy, but the first steps have been taken. United we can achieve our goals and create the biggest team in the world.
That unity is not just needed in Iraq but across diverse communities. How often have we self-segregated ourselves and allowed fear and stereotypes to keep us apart? To break down all barriers we continue our work in London, bringing diverse communities together, which is just as important. We cannot forget that in our effort to overcome extremism in the Middle East that hatred exists in our own neighbourhoods, because if left unchecked, extremism will spread just as rapidly at home. So to fight messages from extremist groups we build young people through football, building stronger communities through tolerance and understanding.
Are you on the team? I ask you to join us!
Yamam Nabeel –Founder