All Africa soccer tournament celebrates diverse cultures, unites community

Team Liberia celebrating after winning the 2023 All Africa Soccer Tournament and Festival. (Submitted by Rahma Dalmar - image credit)
Team Liberia celebrating after winning the 2023 All Africa Soccer Tournament and Festival. (Submitted by Rahma Dalmar - image credit)

For members of Edmonton's African communities, an annual soccer tournament and festival is an opportunity to make connections that continue long after the final goal is scored.

The All Africa Soccer Tournament and Festival begins today, kicking off a weekend filled with friendly competition, live performances, family activities and local food vendors.

The Africa Centre is hosting the 15th annual event at M.E. LaZerte High School, and it's not just a weekend for soccer-loving fanatics.

"The community connection piece is especially critical, because you can have your own house, you can have that job, but human beings are social beings," said Oliver Kamau, director of programs at the Edmonton Immigrant Services Association.

"You need to be connected to another person, or another entity in order for you to be complete."

Kamau grew up in Kenya and moved to Edmonton in the '90s. He said it was hard then for him to develop relationships with other expats from African countries in the city, and even though it's gotten better, it can still be challenging.

A youth team playing a game during the 2023 All Africa Soccer Tournament and Festival.
A youth team playing a game during the 2023 All Africa Soccer Tournament and Festival.

A youth team playing a game during the 2023 All Africa Soccer Tournament and Festival. (Submitted by Rahma Dalmar)

Thomas Bumbeh, a founder of the All Africa soccer tournaments, said he's heard countless testimonies about newcomers feeling lonely because they lack the resources to meet people.

"The ultimate goal of this event is to connect Edmontonians," Bumbeh said.

"We all know when you're moving to a new city, or a new community, you have that challenge of getting connected, getting to know your community that will provide support for you and that you can always relate to," he said.

"And of course, right after the tournament, that connection continues."

This year, players in the tournament will represent about 16 regions in Africa.

Kondeh Mansaray is from Sierra Leone, in West Africa. After he moved to Edmonton, he organized a team made up of people from multiple African countries.

"I wanted to make a neutral country where we could go and play, have fun and just be a part of the great tournament."

Mansaray played in the tournament for years as a teenager, and his team went to the finals multiple times.

Now, he runs an academy in the city called BTB Soccer Club.

BTB — for "born to be" — offers programs for various ages and levels of competition. Its mission is to provide a safe and inclusive space for every member.

Mansaray said he built it to replicate the opportunity and connections that the Africa Centre gave him while he participated in its annual soccer tournament.

"The people that are organizing the tournament have a big impact on us trying to create something for our community and for the greater good of Edmonton," he said.

The All Africa Soccer Tournament and Festival is free and anyone is welcome to watch and participate in the activities.

M.E. LaZerte High School is at 68th Street and 144th Avenue.