All of the children participating in the 2015 SATUC World Cup had compelling stories to tell of hardship overcome, but the team made up of Syrian refugees embodied most acutely the problems that Sheikha Al-Thani’s foundation seeks to relieve. The tragedy of Syria put their brave and spirited team right at the heart this great tournament.

In response to the crisis, SATUC took the decision early on to work closely with the Syrian refugee community in Egypt, helping around 400 individuals in the run up to and during the SATUC Cup. We set up a training camp that got the Syrian team into good shape for the 2015 event, saw them compete whole-heartedly and with the enthusiastic support of their compatriots in Cairo, and sees them lined up for the successor tournament in 2017.

Syria and SATUC’s close connection that was first publicly displayed at the friendly match between a team of refugee boys at SATUC’s Ramadan Suhoor celebration at the Movenpick Hotel in Cairo’s October 6 District on July 7, at which the Syrian boys put up a spirited performance against victors Egypt, and was sealed by the SATUC Cup, where the Syrians defeated the Philippines 5-1 but were otherwise unlucky in meeting two of the tournament’s dominant sides, Egypt and England.

It was not just on the pitch that the SATUC Cup provided opportunities however. The charity invited 400 Syrian child refugees based in Egypt to attend the tournament, and provided these children with food, water and transportation to and from the venue.

Teaming up with the charity Syria Relief, the charity launched a special appeal for sponsorship in recognition for the fact that, after four years of conflict, millions of Syrian refugee children are vulnerable to disease and malnutrition, as well as violence and exploitation. We heard first-hand how millions have lost loved ones, homes and schools.

While everyone knows about the scale and depth of the hardship and horrors in that in war-torn country, SATUC felt that it was important to highlight how children are the innocent victims of that.

The message was reinforced through  According to the Syrian team captain Anas Al Hosari and his assistant Ghassan Kamel, the SATUC tournament gives these exiled kids relief from a harsh present and, in addition, a set of skills that will help them face the future.

“These are children who have lost their childhood, lost their homes, lost their friends” Captain Anas told us, prior to his team’s convincing first round victory over the Philippines. “Thank God that there was this opportunity for them to come to this tournament.”

A man who radiates wisdom, patience and experience, Captain Anas is himself a former player, for Syria’s Al Wehda team, and he also played for a team in Cyprus. These days he runs a shop in Cairo’s October 6 District.  However, such is his dedication to improving the situation for his Fellow-Syrian children, that for more than a month, he abandoned his job, and his own family to train the Syrian team for SATUC World Cup 2015. In doing so, he knocked a team of enthusiastic but undisciplined lads into shape as a viable competitive team.

That is exactly the kind of dedication and selflessness that this tournament celebrates, and Syria was at the heart of it.

We spoke to Captain Anas with the help of Ghassan, a highly cultivated Damascus-born civil engineering student who volunteers for the Syria Aljad refugee charity. He explained that Egypt is the exiled home of choice for Syrian kids because they can understand the language, and living conditions are more affordable than they are in the other main refugee hostpots, Lebanon or Turkey.

The charity they both work for has about 20 staff and 300 volunteers. The refugee community is spread throughout Cairo, mainly in the city’s outlying 6th October district. Syria Aljad works with them on issues like psychological rehabilitation, as the carnage of the multilateral civil war in their home country has made it vitally important for the future viability of the country that issues are resolved.

I asked what the SATUC Cup do for these children? Captain Anas considered the question carefully.

“It will be helpful for them to learn new things. It is a totally new experience for them to be staying in a hotel, eating in this restaurant. There are new disciplines to be learned about the most basic things like this.”

“Not only are these experiences useful for their lives, but the fact of participating in the SATUC cup will I hope give them a push into following their dreams, and following their talent.”

For the refugee boys of Syria, many of whom have been orphaned by war and who have experienced life at its most bitter and brutal, this will be a week to remember for the rest of their lives. In later years they may reflect on how much they owe to men like Captain Anas who made it possible. Unfortunately, Syria did not go on to win the SATUC Cup, but their presence here, and the spirit they have shown on the pitch, represents a great victory.

Millions of people are trapped in rapidly deteriorating circumstances lacking even the basics needed to survive, including food, water, shelter, hygiene facilities and healthcare. An estimated 12.2 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 5 million children. Over 190,000 Syrians have been killed and 1.5 million have been injured. 2 million homes have been damaged or destroyed, many hospitals are either closed, inaccessible or only partially functioning and a huge percentage of Syria’s children are no longer in school. These figures show the scale of the destruction, which has been described by some UN officials as the biggest crisis since World War II.

SATUC was delighted also to invite London-based Tasneem Al Barazi of Syria Relief to witness the games for herself. Tasneem praised SATUC for the opportunities that the charity had offered the children of Syria, and said that the spirit of competition, fun, and joint celebration of sportsmanship was “just what the kids needed” to allow them relief from the cruel hardships which their country’s crisis had imposed on them.

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