By Virginia Lyon

As fans around the globe tune in to watch the World Cup we are reminded that soccer has always been more than just a sport.  For most people soccer is a source of contention, national pride, frustration, and excitement.  For the children in the Zaatari Refugee Camp however, soccer has become something much more.  “All children who arrive here are completely devastated,” explains 31-year old Bassam Omar Al-Taleb a striker for an amateur team in southern Syria turned soccer coach in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, “They have seen their families killed before their eyes and their journey to Jordan is a difficult one. Through football we at least try to remove the sense of fear and regain some sense of normalcy.”[1]

Al-Taleb is talking about a program created by the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP) – set up by Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan – in collaboration with the United European Football Association (UEFA). While other groups working in the Zaatari Refugee Camp provide necessities such as foodstuffs and medical supplies AFDP brings soccer. The hope is that playing soccer will not only promote physical health among the boys and girls in the camp but that it will lead to a much needed sense of community, foster hope and build self-confidence.

In order to bring the game to the Zaatari Camp, the AFDP brought in two coaches from Europe and three from Jordan to train the refugees on how to coach themselves and organize teams and leagues within the camp. As far as a place to play, AFDP is working with the Football Association of Norway to construct eight soccer fields for Syrian refugees and the host communities throughout Jordan, two of which are in Zaatari. Other organizations, like the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), have donated soccer balls and t-shirts to make soccer in Zaatari possible.

The program is further aided with the help of local Jordanians. Abeer Rantisi, a midfielder for the Jordan women’s national team, coaches some of the Syrian women and girls who have been forced to flee their homes. While women’s soccer teams have met with some resistance in the Middle East the girls in Zaatari are just as welcome as the boys, though they mostly play in private parts of the camp. “In football programs,” Rantisi says, “The main thing we can work on is self-confidence… For the children we have to make them resilient. They were suffering in Syria and now they are over here, so we have to bring them back to life.”[2]


[1] James Montague, “Syria conflict: Kicking for hope in Zaatari refugee camp”, CNN, March 14, 2014

[2] Jonathan Wilson, “Football becomes mother to Syria’s traumatized child refugees”, The Guardian, December 3, 2013