Football returns to Harsham IDP camp

This summer, we appealed to our supporters for funds to build a new football pitch at Harsham IDP camp in Erbil. The old pitch had gradually fallen apart due to constant use. For months, the children were playing on the stony ground underneath. But now, thanks to those who made generous donations, the new pitch is nearly finished! Read on to find out more about this project and how you can support it. 

Together with our partner, Barzani Charity Foundation, we are employing some of Harsham camp’s residents to help with the work. So far, they have added six outlets to make sure that excess water can easily drain from the pitch. A blacksmith who lives in the camp is in charge of constructing and cementing the drainage system. The old turf has been completely removed, as has all the rubbish and scrub that had started to grow around the pitch. Broken fences are being repaired by a team of welders. Despite the 40 degree heat, those working on the pitch have made amazing progress in a short space of time. 

The pitch before the new turf was laid

What football was like under ISIS

It is 2014. After their blitzkrieg, ISIS turns the football stadium in Raqqa into an interrogation centre. Men dressed in black convert changing rooms into prison cells and modify gym equipment for torture. In Mosul, they force anyone playing football to cut the logos from their sports kit. ISIS deems logos to be idolatrous. Players must never wear shorts, only baggy trousers. Referees must not use whistles ‘because the sound will make the devils gather’. Trophies, medals and tournaments do not exist.

One day, ISIS militants in Mosul catch 13 teenage boys watching football on TV. This is forbidden. They round the boys up and execute them in front of a crowd of people. This was widely reported in Western and Arab media. Their crime is “breaking religious laws”. Back in Raqqa, five members of the local ‘Al-Shaba’ football team are publicly beheaded for “spying” but locals say the real reason is to punish those who like football, deemed ‘un-Islamic’ by ISIS emirs. This is football in the ISIS caliphate. 

Football today (and hopefully tomorrow)

A young Messi fan looks on as the new turf is unfurled

The first thing you hear when you approach the football pitch at Harsham camp is laughter. Boys run around excitedly kicking the ball to each other. Penalty shoot-outs are popular, with big cheers for goals scored. The children are free to explore their talent and enjoy the beautiful game. The FRRME logo appears on new football strips. The power of football to bring joy, hope and connection is evident in Harsham. In the coming weeks we will share a video of the new pitch. 

Dastan is standing in the back row, far left

Our football project at Harsham camp is changing lives. We are paying an inspirational football coach there called Dastan. He believes that football is the best way to keep the boys on the right path. He says: “They have a lot of energy which needs to be released in a positive way. Keeping busy with sport and making friends is such a benefit for them.” We are so grateful for the support we have received to pay for the new pitch. However, we still need funding for the monthly costs including paying the football coach. We also have ambitions to establish more football pitches across the Nineveh Plain, to bring hope to the young people there who have suffered so much. 

If you know professional footballers or trusts which would be interested in supporting these dreams, please get in touch! Email us at office@frrme.org or call +44 1730 267 673. 

Please see the giving options below if you would like to support this or any of our other projects. Thank you! 

Please help and make a donation 

To support our work in Iraq and Jordan please make a donation via our donate page (there are numerous options for how to donate). Alternatively, you can send us a cheque made out to ‘FRRME’ to: FRRME, PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hants, GU32 9DL, United Kingdom. American supporters wishing to make a donation can do so here.