Swedish soccer team point of pride for Kurds

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(26 Oct 2018) It started out as a social project to get misbehaving kids off the street in a rural town in central Sweden. Now it’s a top-flight soccer team representing and giving hope to millions of people from unstable, disputed territories in the Middle East.
The 14-year journey of Dalkurd is an unlikely story of second chances, cultural integration and using the world’s most popular sport as a force for good.
Perhaps most poignantly, it has given the Kurdish population _ scattered and ravaged by war for decades _ something to cherish as their own.
“It’s really amazing, especially for me, a Kurdish guy from Kurdistan,” said Peshraw Azizi, who fled north Iraq for Sweden with his family in 2000 and has played for Dalkurd for much of the club’s astonishing rise. “This is my national team, and to represent my people, the Kurdish flag, for me, it’s the most beautiful thing I can do.”
At a time when immigration is top of the political agenda in Sweden, Dalkurd’s status in the country’s leading soccer league, Allsvenskan, is striking. It is a notion that would have been scoffed at back in 2004, when the team was founded.
A group of Kurdish migrants living in Borlange decided to start the new club to give something back to a community that had welcomed them as refugees. The team was called Dalkurd _ fusing the locality and the founders’ Kurdish roots _ and its uniform and badge were in the colors of the Kurdish flag: Red, white and green, with a golden sun at the center.
Starting in the eighth and lowest tier of Swedish soccer, the team trained for 2 1/2 hours every night and won five successive promotions to go straight into the third tier. They lost just four games in those five years.
Before long, the team was in Superettan (Sweden’s second tier), had started an academy in Borlange, and was getting noticed outside Sweden _ in particular, in Kurdistan.
Most of the world’s 40 million Kurds live in a region spanning the frontiers of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, and though they speak different languages and answer to different authorities, they share traditions and ties across the greater region they call Kurdistan.
For decades, they have been persecuted by their governments and pushed to the margins of societies, but in recent years the Kurds of Syria and Iraq have won autonomous rule within the borders of their respective countries.
There is no Kurdish national soccer team recognized by FIFA. That’s where Dalkurd comes in.
“Today, it’s really really big … it’s our national team,” Azizi said. “It’s not only in Kurdistan now, around the world, like the USA, like Europe, everybody’s knowing about Dalkurd and especially the Kurdish people.”

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