(Above) A clash between Yei Central (white/green) and Nasir FC (yellow) at Yei Freedom Square: This is the only public playground where competitions can be held in Yei.
City Corps player Moses Kerela and his colleagues endure traveling a great distance in order to see his dream of becoming a professional soccer player come true. With the endless love for sports despite the insecurity in the country, South Sudanese youth are struggling to develop their talents and sports clubs are also struggling to match international standards. The playing fields lack grass, the clubs do not have sponsors while the footballers play barefoot.
Kerela is a player, coach, team captain, and manager of the club. This is so after some of his colleagues fled, because of the outbreak of violence in 2013, after disagreement between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and former first Vice President Riek Machar.
“We have no field,” says Kerela. “City Corps is a club that has no training field. We are sharing the playing field with our neighbours.”
City Corps Football Club was founded in 2004 by a group of committed football fans. The club is among the eight competitive teams in the Yei First Division League, a tournament often organized by the Yei Local Football Association.
“We, just like the boys and players in the area, struggle to do some casual work to meet our needs,” states Kerela.
Players and fans raise support locally
In South Sudan’s Yei, players and fans raise their support locally - financially, morally, and materially - to strengthen the clubs and organize the league, including obtaining playing kits.
“In Yei, people love sports, especially football,” says Bona Farouk, tactician for Yei Central FC. “Even if it is nursery kids playing, you see people coming to watch.” Farouk’s club plays with City Corps in the same league.
There are 12 football clubs in the Second Division League. At the end of the season, two top clubs in the league are promoted to the first division, while two others from the top league are dropped. There are also eight girls football clubs who have been competing in the Mayor’s Cup.
Clubs and players in Yei face numerous challenges. They have only a few playgrounds, they lack tournament and club sponsors, and they also lack professional skills and knowledge. They all use the playground at Yei Freedom Square. When it rains or when there is a public function on the playground, it means that no matches can be played there.
Luate Moses, Fly Sports FC manager, mentions that the presence of only one play group for competitions makes other leagues to end prematurely. The club, formed in 2004, winners of the 2007 Yei Premier League, is now being sponsored by Royal Sports Betting, who provide the club with uniforms and playing boots.
Amidst its achievements, Luate says the club has been facing “poor leadership” as officials don’t like working as volunteers without motivation. However, he has taken it upon himself to manage the club, even with the little support that is available.
“Nobody is willing to sacrifice. I work very, very hard with the little money that I earn to support the team,” he told TCT. The club also has an under-17 boys team and a girls football team.
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Players have potential to become professionals
According to John James Wani, players in the clubs have the “potential and aspiration to become professionals if developed”. Wani is a former long-serving president of Yei Local Football Association. He admits that there are challenges in sports - decrying that players often suffer major injuries in matches played at the rough play ground of Yei Freedom Square.
“Most referees and club coaches have not received professional training, just gambling though some have got basic training,” James adds.
The new commissioner of Yei River County, Denis Lasuba, promised to work with security organizations and the local citizens to improve the security in the area for social activities like sports to run uninterrupted.
“Life needs to go on. I am a fan of football, and we are trying our best to make it a success,” Denis told sports officials in a meeting last Friday.
Yei River State Minister for Culture, Youth and Sports, Stephen Lado Onesimo, acknowledges that football clubs and associations lack enough support to their activities.
“The shortfall in partners’ support to these clubs results from insecurity, which forced them (partners) to close down some of their activities,” he adds.
“The ministry will work in collaboration with line partners to implement programmes for youth empowerment,” he said.
He regretted that some non-governmental organizations neglect implementing their youth-focused activities, yet that is the reason they were registered.