‘Sport brings people together’: Luol Deng on basketball and South Sudan

The former NBA star talks to Al Jazeera about building South Sudan’s basketball team and why sport can change lives.

Luol Deng warms up before an NBA basketball game
South Sudan have won a game at the FIBA World Cup for the first time and qualified for their first Olympics with Deng as federation head [File: Aaron Gash/AP Photo]

In his youth, long before he became a two-time NBA all-star, Luol Deng saw only negative coverage about his home country.

He was born Wau, now South Sudan, in 1985 during the second Sudanese Civil War, which killed almost two million, and displaced many more – Deng and his family among them.

As Deng lived in Egypt, the United Kingdom, and the United States, he continued to be troubled by this coverage and believed his homeland deserved better recognition – particularly after South Sudan gained independence in 2011.

In a new episode of Al Jazeera’s Generation Sport, Deng told Iman Amrani how he grew up with the desire to “put my country on the map” and for the world to see South Sudan for “the positive, the talent, and what we can achieve as a nation”.

When the South Sudan Basketball Federation president role became vacant in 2019, Deng seized the opportunity.

As federation president, he has transformed South Sudanese basketball through professional and community programmes, up-to-date courts and equipment, and supporting players and coaches on and off the court.

The on-court success has been astonishing. In recent days, South Sudan have made history twice: first by winning their first FIBA World Cup game, second by qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics as the top-ranked African team.

Off the court, he has helped bring people together in his young, fractious nation.

Meanwhile, he has also been supporting children worldwide in securing basketball scholarships through basketball, ensuring they excel not only in sport but are equipped “to become whatever they can become” as they gain high-level academic and sport skills.

“People want to better their lives, but if you want to help, you have to show someone how,” he said, adding that sport has the power to change the world.

“Sports can bring people together and sports are a part of nation building.”

Generation Sport is a series about sport as an agent of change with an emphasis on the new generations and how they engage with sport, presented by Iman Amrani.

Source: Al Jazeera