A Winnipeg youth soccer team is hoping a tournament that began under a dark cloud will end with a provincial championship this weekend.
AK Academy will play in the Boys’ Under 17 final of the MSA Cup on Saturday, less than four weeks after one of their players was allegedly targeted with racial slurs.
“For them to make finals, it just showed us that you know what? Even with all this nonsense that’s going on, our boys are still focusing on what they need to do,” said Evelyne Kiwanuka, the player’s mother.
Kiwanuka says her 16-year-old son was twice called the N-word during the team’s opening game of the tournament on July 3 against 1v1 Futbol Dreams.
The second of those incidents, near the end of the game, touched off a fight on the field, when Kiwanuka’s son responded by shoving a 1v1 player. Video of the fracas shows another AK player shoving an opponent, followed by a 1v1 player throwing a punch.
Some of the players were suspended as a result of the fight, according to parents of AK players.
When contacted by CBC, the Manitoba Soccer Association would not confirm who was suspended or the length of the suspensions.
The MSA held two disciplinary hearings on July 25 over video call — one for each 1v1 player who allegedly said a slur. But Kiwanuka said both players denied saying anything during the game, which shocked her and her son.
“My son was like, ‘I’m not sure why I’d be making this up. I’m here to say this happened because it happened,'” Kiwanuka said.
When contacted for this story, 1v1 Futbol Dreams did not respond. They previously told CBC the team would not comment until an outcome is reached by the association.
Kiwanuka said she was told the disciplinary committee — which is independent from the MSA — will relay its decision to the organization. It’s her understanding that either side is free to appeal whatever decision is made.
While she said she understands the MSA is following its protocol, Kiwanuka doesn’t get why the organization won’t meet with both teams and parents to settle the matter.
“It feels almost in vain, like the fight is really not a fight if the people that are on top, that are in charge, don’t see it as an issue,” she said.
MSA doesn’t know when committee will have decision
In an email to CBC on Tuesday, the association’s executive director, Hector Vergara, said MSA won’t comment on the matter since it hasn’t received a decision from the committee, and that the MSA doesn’t know when the committee will provide one.
Kiwanuka said the committee told her it will decide within 15 business days.
In games following the July 3 match, players from AK Academy and some of the other teams in the tournament — including those in other divisions — made the symbolic gesture of taking a knee, as a way of coming together against racism.
But for Kiwanuka, the longer the disciplinary case drags on, the greater the likelihood that teams will get the wrong message.
“This is the ground that we’re laying now,” she said. “If it’s OK, the atmosphere is ripe for racial slurs and discrimination and racism or whatever human rights violation.”
“[If] it’s let go and it’s allowed to permeate, guess what? It catches on like wildfire,” she added.
Kiwanuka is also worried this is only the beginning of the racism her son will face as he gets older.
“Talk about your child growing up fast,” she said. “This is the first of many, many life instances that he’s going to have to deal with the rest of his life.”
While her son and his team await the next move from the disciplinary committee and the MSA, Kiwanuka says the results on the pitch have been inspiring.
After a scoreless draw against 1v1 on July 3, AK won its next two games by a combined score of 7-1, earning a berth in Saturday’s final against Bonivital SC, which made it through the round-robin undefeated. The game is scheduled to kick off at 4:30 p.m. at the Ralph Cantafio Soccer Complex.
Win or lose on Saturday, Kiwanuka says she couldn’t be more grateful for the team’s success.
“We’re just very proud of them. So it was a light amidst the darkness, honestly.”
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