Its origins might be steeped in sorrow but the Faisal Cup, established in 2005, is now an event awash with laughter and hope. It was 13 years ago when tragedy struck Mohd Faizal Abd Rahman, a football-loving Rohingya-Thai child and student at one of Dignity for Children’s Foundation learning centres. While playing football with his friends, Faizal’s tattered but cherished football had inadvertently fallen into the swollen Gombak River. Without hesitation, he immediately dived in to retrieve the precious plaything only to be caught in the strong currents, tragically drowning as a result.
In his memory and in the hope of providing a safe and secure platform for children to play, learn and live out their dreams on the pitch without fear or worry, the Dignity for Children Foundation decided to create the Faisal Cup, which is said to be the first football tournament of its kind. The Faisal Cup allows underprivileged and refugee children equal opportunity to play and compete in a safe, well-organised and recognised environment with the added aim of never again having a child lose his life over the simple desire to have fun kicking a ball around.
“The Faisal Cup embodies Dignity’s vision of providing children with a holistic education — one that develops their physical and cognitive skills — and a safe platform for children to pursue their dreams,” said Dignity’s co-founder, Reverend Elisha Satvinder. “The annual Faisal Cup is a homage to the boy who loved football so much that he died trying to retrieve his only ball from the river. For Dignity, we want to ensure that children do not need to give up their life to pursue their passion.”
What started out as a fledgling effort with only three teams has grown into a tournament of true repute, expanding its reach to Penang and Johor. The recent 14th Faisal Cup saw 1,206 players from 155 teams (out of which 50 are girls’ teams) and 41 learning centres. In the hopes of promoting greater social inclusion and equality, girls are strongly encouraged to participate in the game — a move to liberate girls from gender bias while presenting them with an opportunity to break barriers and social taboos.
Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, the US ambassador to Malaysia and a strong advocate for women in sports, presented medals to the participants at the finals held at Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur. “Football is not just about the game,” the diplomat said over a lunch held to celebrate the US’ win in the recent Women’s Fifa World Cup. “Anyone who has ever been involved in athletics and sports know the life-long benefits of participating [in sports]. We have also discovered that the top business leaders in the US, if you look at what they have done, play sports; they learn leadership, teamwork and how to assert themselves in new and different ways that have taken them through their whole careers. Sports is not just about the game. It is about much more in life.”
In a way, her statement echoes a sentiment shared by a Faisal Cup participant: “The thing about football is that it is never just about football.” All we need to do now is ensure that every child in the world has a chance to play the game and learn its precious lessons along the way. Perhaps only then can we truly hope for the world to become a better place.
This story first appeared on The Edge Malaysia on Aug 5, 2019.