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Sudanese football teams torn by citizenship, southern players in limbo

KHARTOUM - A sense of loss among northern sports fans has given way to uncertainty about the future of Sudan’s sports teams. What will happen to players from the south?

Northern football fans wonder if pitches will be empty of southern players and their expertise.
© Trygve Berge

Athletes are among the many southerners whose citizenship status, as northern residents, remains obscure in the wake of South Sudan’s independence.

“It is illogical to opt for independence and then demand concessions.”
President Omar Al-Bashir

“Nationality will not be granted to southerners after secession,” said Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir during a recent interview with Al-Jazeera television.

Al-Bashir reiterated that South Sudanese living in the north will lose their jobs, a move that defies an agreement giving southerners 20 percent of all jobs in diplomatic representation.

But questions about the future of athletes’ jobs and their clubs remain unanswered, including those with contracts for as many as five seasons.
 
Before South Sudan’s independence on 9 July, Juba said it would grant dual citizenship to northerners living in South Sudan.

A football match in Nahr an Nil - Photo: Tom James

Malik Jaffer, former general secretary of the Sudanese al-Hilal football team council, concluded contracts with a number of South Sudanese players, including defender Atir Thomas Magor and Goma Genaro (aka Goma al-Alamein).

“They were hired as national players, so nobody thought about the issue of separation between north and south,” he said. “However, I see that there is a rule that laws do not apply retroactively.”

He cited the example of Shikosy, a Nigerian goalkeeper for al-Merreikh. When a decision on banning contracts with foreign goalkeepers was issued, his job was limited to national players. Shikosy was excluded until the completion of his contract period.

StillSUDAN analysis: Citizenship dispensary

A large number of southern players have a significant presence on Sudanese football teams, including al-Hilal and al-Merreikh. They have also formed the mainstay of Sudan’s national team, as in the case of Richard Justin Lado, who played in a number of clubs, starting with al-Sahafa, followed by a move to al-Hilal before he went professional with the Ismaili team.

Justin played for the Sultanate of Oman after returning to al-Hilal. He then joined al-Merreikh before renewing his contract with the Khartoum team for two more seasons.

Justin, a southerner born in north Sudan, raised eyebrows among his teammates when he spoke about the south’s independence and the prospect of changing his citizenship.  

“Richard Justin and our goalkeeper, Roy Gulwak, are like brothers. We never regarded them as foreigners at any time.”
Salah al-Ameer
“This will be a strange situation for many Sudanese, especially for those of us in the football community,” said Justin’s captain, Salah al-Ameer.

Explaining that many friendships between northerners and southerners have formed in stadiums and clubs, al-Ameer said revoking southern players’ citizenship would lead to a separation of team players that he called “disastrous.”

“I can’t imagine a barrier between us,” said al-Ameer. “This will be a loss for sport and the worst thing ever.” Pulling the players apart, he added, “would have a psychological impact on us, and there would be a lot of confusion on technical and administrative levels, too.”

Some of the southern players have spent a significant part of their lives outside Sudan. Atir Thomas Magor, who joined al-Hilal this season, spent years in Saudi Arabia; Khartoum goalkeeper Gulwak Roy has lived in Yemen.

None of the southern football players were available for comment.

The new national team of South Sudan lost its first friendly match 3-1 to Tusker FC of Kenya on July 12 - Photo: antheap

At this point, the future of the southern players is far from clear, and Malik Jaffer does not see their situation easily resolved. Together with Hisham Nasr, treasurer of the al-Khartoum Club, he called for the establishment of a legal delegation to take the issue to court.

“The situation seems more complex,” Nasr said. “It’s not limited to football teams; it extends to other sports. All our basketball team players are from the South too.”  

Al-Merreikh’s acting secretary, Mutawakkil Ahmad Ali, said he would abide by the law when it takes effect. He asked for patience until more clarity emerges.

South Sudan, meanwhile, is the home of Africa’s newest football team. Going by the nickname “Bright Star,” the squad has been training for about four weeks.

Editor: Alexa Dvorson


The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of the publishers of www.theniles.org

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