Juba, South Sudan – On an early Saturday morning on the outdoor court next to thed Nimra Talata basketball stadium in Juba, 19-year-old Rebecca Pascual, together with 30 other girls and boys, prepares for handball practice before the South Sudanese sun becomes too strong to bare. They fetch the balls, measure and mark the sandy uneven court full of small pebbles and fix an old, worn net on the poles.
“You know, this [sport] keeps people united, from different tribes, sometimes we don’t know where someone is from”, says Ismail, the handball coach. Everyone volunteers. Neither the coach nor the players are paid.
At the Juba Youth Training Centre, fighters and weightlifters gather for training at 4pm each day. “Sport is easy to identify with. They [the fighters] coexist together when there is something to do together,” says Puro Okelo Obob, the kickboxing coach. Obob moved back to South Sudan in 2008 from Canada, where he was living and fighting professionally.
During May, the basketball and football championships took place in the capital. Each night, at Juba stadium and the basketball stadium, crowds gathered to support their favourite teams. There were also children’s teams and disabled athletic teams competing.
But the most popular sport is football, with people playing each evening across the city on mud football pitches. “There are too many teams and too few pitches,” said one man working at Juba Stadium
Although many athletes lack the proper resources and equipment, they continue playing for the love of sport which unites their communities which are being torn apart by civil war.