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Watch NZH Local Focus: Football World Cup in Hamilton

By Hunter Calder

They come from war-torn Africa, impoverished communities of Latin America, and almost every other spot on the globe - players with a passion for 'the beautiful game, football or soccer.

It's a sport that Waikato man Conrad Nagle invests his heart and soul into. And it is a sport he knows brings people from all backgrounds together.

Mr Nagle says he and a friend came up with the idea to bring different ethnic communities together through sport when they were at Waikato University in 1999.

The idea started small but grew into what's now known as the New Zealand Ethnic Football Festival.

Nagle says his vision at university was to "integrate ethnic communities through football", a game that needs no language to play, just a smile and a passion.

"Each ethnic group, each country plays a different style so it's really really good to see two different styles played."

This year, more than 24 cultures make up 24 teams, playing off for the winning shield.

Somalia Stars player Faisal Shiekhdon has been part of it since the start. He moved to New Zealand 14 years ago with his grandmother and brother, because of the civil war. Sport helped him connect with others.

Faisal says playing soccer is a way he can show people his "true colours".

"It's not about winning or losing you know, it's all about bringing people together, and integrating and having a good time. It's all about getting there and having fun, showing people your culture and stuff like that."

But it's not just a social competition. The football festival is referred to as a mini-world cup for everyone who plays.

Mr Shiekhdon says "you will see a different side of me when I am on the pitch... when I am out there I have a different mentality to go out there and win."

Eighty percent of each teams' members must come from an ethnic community. 15 year old Owen Comber represents England.

"If you play Fiji or something, they play quite good and quite physical and then you play another team, like a South American team and they're good short passing team. So you need to be aware that's how they are going to play against you."

Hamilton Migrant Services Patricia Novoa says sports are a great way to celebrate diversity and bring people from different backgrounds together.

The ethnic football festival is held this weekend at Gower Park in Hamilton.

Made with funding from NZ on Air

- NZ Herald

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