‘My whole life has revolved around sport – it has broken down barriers. When people go to a game, they just see their team play – they don’t see the black guy anymore,” said Biodu Sayeh, Westmeath GAA football player.
ayeh is a testament to the power of sport as a social lubricant that can make it easier for people to participate in a community, especially when they come from afar. That’s what he’s passionate about: sport helping people find their feet and their friends.
Sayeh (25 years old) was only 8 years old when she came to this country from Liberia. His mother had died two years earlier, and when his uncle Ben and his wife Therese offered their grandson a new home here, his father agreed.
“It was a huge culture shock. I remember hearing people talk and I didn’t know what they were talking about. I also speak English, but that’s African English. It was a scary experience but I know it can also be fun,” says Sayeh, who now works as a fitness trainer and personal trainer in Galway.
Going to school at Rosemount not far from Moate, Co Westmeath, he started playing GAA in elementary school. It wasn’t long before people recognized his talent. “With GAA if you really want to play and be a part of it, people want to include you as part of the community. I think that’s the thing all over Ireland if you’re interested in sport. It made things a lot easier for me,” he said.
While he says he was sheltered growing up in a small place, he has come to realize that racism is something many of his friends are subjected to. However, what he feels is changing as more people tell their stories.
And he knew that if he saw more black GAA players growing up, that would inspire him.
“I don’t like to appear in public,” he said. “But if I feel like I can help someone with something I say or do, I will. It is very important to me. The only reason I’m talking about this is that someone might even have the same story as me.”
Performance psychologist Nollaig O’Sullivan says that globally, sport is recognized as a means to bring people together and promote social inclusion.
“When you look at team sports, there is a reduction in negative attitudes among the groups. It enhances mutual acceptance when everyone has a common goal. It plays a really important role in social inclusion and gives people a place to meet, which gives a sense of belonging.”
When Sergiu Ciobanu (38 years old) first came here from his native Moldova, his plan was to stay for a few months. It was 2006 and he didn’t speak English when he came here. He has a long-distance relative who lives in Dublin and in his early days here, he jogged through on his own that took him past Morton Stadium, home of legendary Dublin track club Clonliffe Harriers.
He explained that he had learned a few basic words and had come to the club to introduce himself. He was greeted with open arms, was contacted by a running group, and his running career was a success. He has excelled in his sport, especially in the marathon though he was bitterly disappointed at not being selected to represent Ireland at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Now living in Clonmel, he runs a physiotherapy and physiotherapy session with his wife Eimear, whom he met through running. The couple has three children. “Looking back, I realize I learned a lot through running. I know people from Moldova who don’t use this route. I think it’s harder for them. I have met a lot of different people through running, not just elite athletes,” he said.
While Ciobanu is currently training hard for some tough cross-country meetings, he’s also determined that others will benefit from his experience and find their own path through fitness. sports. He coaches a small group in Clonmel and also trains at Grange-Fermoy Athletics Club, a 50-minute drive away in Co Cork.
“I know how athletics has helped me integrate into Irish society, meet people and understand different points of view. I have friends from Moldova and Romania and I’m trying to get them to come to my lessons. I’m trying to explain how important it is. They don’t socialize much with the Irishle and I are trying to get them involved,” he said.
But it’s not just elite athletes or county soccer stars that benefit from getting involved in the sport. Dublin civil servant Sorcha Loughnane and welder Ghanian Noel Selorm Adabblah traverse the trails of Phoenix Park weekly as part of a growing community that aims to break barriers by running.
When Adabblah arrived in Ireland in 2018, racing and running a marathon were far from his mind. After leaving his hometown for economic reasons, he found a direct supply center in Dublin. He left home, leaving his parents and siblings behind.
When a friend mentioned Sanctuary Runners, his interest was piqued. “He told me there was a group out every weekend and I said, ‘Sounds perfect,’” he said. “It’s hard for me to say no – I want to try.”
In his first 5k, he came in first or second – he doesn’t remember – but the feeling is still there. “I realized that running at that speed, I have more to offer. I feel like people appreciate me,” said Adabblah, who has since left the direct supply system and is working in construction.
Running has helped him find his feet and build a close community of friends. One of them is Loughnane, a Dublin mother of two. A member of the Donore Harriers running club, she joined Sanctuary Runners before Covid because she wanted to welcome people like Adabblah but didn’t know how. “When I heard about the group, I felt it was a really unforced and natural way to meet people and get to know them,” she says.
The organization is the brainchild of Graham Clifford. The former journalist traveled to Budapest, Vienna and Munich during the 2015 migrant crisis. When he returned to Ireland, he asked himself what people were saying about the so-called welcoming nation that we didn’t have any. What is the right way to meet migrants? or asylum seekers.
It was during the 10-mile race in Dungarvan in 2018 that he got his eureka moment. By the time he crossed the finish line, he had a broad outline for what would become Sanctuary Runners. The mission statement is simple: enable Irish people to work in solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers.
Up to 4,200 people have participated over the years; 800 of them have or have spent time providing direct. “Some of the most powerful moments when you’re together are in the shared silence.” Says Clifford. “If you’re digging deep and you’re trying to get there, you’re together, you’re one. ”
Adabblah says running has opened up the whole country. He wants to travel and participate more, run the map of Ireland. “The group gave me the kind of friendship that stuck in my mind,” he said. “It played a really good role in my settling down in Ireland. People want to listen to me – these people are amazing.”
Mayo GAA football player Shairoze Akram (25 years old) believes there is a lot of potential to use sport as a tool to welcome people into the community. When he first came to Ireland from Pakistan at the age of 4, playing football was a way to meet friends. “I was very bad at it the first few years. In terms of talent, it’s not there,” he talks about his early days.
It does not matter. He’s happy to stick with it to be with his friends. It’s been years and years and the DCU sports science graduate won his first all-Ireland Under-21 medal in 2016. Last year, he was inducted as one of the ambassadors for a new campaign aimed at promote inclusion and diversity within the GAA and promote participation in community events among members of minority groups.
The Bring It On campaign aims to increase the participation of people from different backgrounds in GAA sports to 30pc by 2025. Research conducted as part of the campaign has shown that 65pc respondents believe that greater diversity and inclusion in the GAA will benefit the broader community.
Akram, who currently plays senior football for his club Ballaghaderreen, returned to Pakistan for the first time in 2018 and describes the experience as an exciting one. He believes that if his success story can make a difference to other young people in a similar situation, he needs to keep speaking out.
Racism has no place in sports, he said, even though he has been through it. “We need to educate people to play their part. If people are subjected to racist abuse, it can stop them from playing sports. We need to start educating children at a young age about the consequences of what they are saying,” he said.
https://www.independent.ie/life/people-just-see-their-team-not-the-black-guy-any-more-41421155.html ‘People only see their team – not the black guy anymore’