After exiting a Soccer Moms WhatsApp Group, a mother called a colleague during the weekend to inform that she was pulling her son Robert out of the football team. In no uncertain terms, she expressed her disappointment that her son was subjected to a racial slur during training, and this was not addressed. When my colleague returned to work, she gathered the other players to hear their point of view, but no one shed any light on what happened. So, she then visited Robert and he identified the teammate that made the demeaning remarks. He also explained that he was insulted probably because he had conceded a penalty that cost the team the game. However, he claimed that he had gotten over it and will attend the next training session.
Robert did not show at training and when the session ended, my colleague gathered the players and asked if they would accompany her to invite him to the next game. The boy who had insulted Robert initially refused but after some egging from the rest, he reluctantly agreed but it was obviously difficult for him to do so. On the way to Robert’s home, he was extremely boisterous, speaking loudly and in exaggerated fashion to the rest. When he got into the lift, he started jumping and stopped only when his friends chastised him.
When Robert’s mom answered the door, my colleague expressed that the team missed him at training, and everyone would like to acknowledge that racial slurs and any insults were wrong and should not be condoned anywhere, and not just during football training. Mom was visibly surprised to see so many people at her door and extended a friendly greeting that seemed to reassure the boy who insulted her son. As my colleague continued talking to mom at the door, he slipped into the home to greet Robert and in no time, both boys were jointly engaged in a game on a phone.
My colleague then revealed to Robert’s mom that he did not play fair on the pitch too. Challenging strongly for the ball was part of the game but throwing a punch was not. Such behaviour was unsporting and was likely to provoke violent reactions. Robert, who was within earshot immediately came to the door and apologised to the player he had punched. The boy graciously accepted the apology and invited Robert to join the team at the next game. Robert’s mom then told everyone that they should come to her if Robert offended or hurt them in any way. She then served everybody a soft drink and invited them to make themselves at home.
For the record, Robert and the team secured 3rd place at the Tote Board’s Fandi Rules 4×4 Street Soccer Tournament in region they live in. The placing provided an important sense of achievement for the boys but for us, sport is valued for the sportsmanship it promotes, the humility in victory and the unity in defeat.
As highlighted in the story I just shared, it is also a context for opportunities to restore relationships and to build community. Programmes that promote healthy individual development are necessary and important but as a community development agency we focus on the strengthening of relationships and respect among individuals; facilitating the emergence of hospitality, forgiveness, kindness, co-operation and the acceptance of fallibility. Hence, we are very grateful for Robert’s mother who embodies these qualities in this instance.
For peace, community, and the restoration of hurt relationships,
Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. – Henri Nouwen