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Priests and imams hope dribble for unity will get young people onside

21 August 2015


Good-natured: some of the players from the two teams shake hands at the end of the match

Good-natured: some of the players from the two teams shake hands at the end of the match

A FOOTBALL match between clergy and imams in the West Yorkshire town of Dewsbury will help to bring segregated communities together, say priests who took part.

The game, which finished 3-0 to the imams, was organised by a town charity, Kumon Y’All, as part of a day of community events this month.

The six clerics, who included the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, were up against six imams. As well as a football game, they also took part in a tug of war contest, in which they were more successful.

Bishop Robinson said afterwards: "I’m afraid the priests’ team didn’t do as well as expected. There is certainly room for improvement. However, we triumphed gloriously in the tug of war against the imams."

Dewsbury was the home of the 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan, as well as a 17-year-old who became a suicide bomber for Islamic State.

The priests who took part said on Tuesday that the football match was just one way of building relationships across religious and ethnic divides. The Revd Mark Umpleby, Associate Priest in Batley, Purlwell and Hanging Heaton, said: "It was absolutely wonderful to be able to develop relationships and make new friends.

"It celebrated the wonderfully diverse part of the country that we live and work in. It was great for the young people who were around the pitch watching — I think modelling the good relationships we have on and off the pitch with those of different faiths was fantastic."

Mr Umpleby also said that the event was not just a one-off. Dewsbury clergy often attend parties to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid at the mosque. "There is diversity, but that is something that you welcome and celebrate."

The Revd Robb Sutherland, Vicar of Mixenden and Illingworth, said: "It’s all about spending time with people you live with. We do live in multicultural West Yorkshire.

"Football is a place where communities can come together. Football doesn’t care what colour your skin is. We certainly are bringing down barriers in this area between certain communities."

In his own parish, near Halifax, Mr Sutherland said that meeting people of different faiths and backgrounds, often over food, was the best way to build a real sense of community. Sitting down around a table and sharing a meal with those who were different helped people to stop seeing others as a "concept" and more as "real human beings", he said.

Farook Yunus, a project manager for Kumon Y’All, said that the point of the day was to bring everyone who lives in their corner of West Yorkshire together.

It wasn’t just religious leaders taking to the field either: teams of teachers, police officers, and firefighters also took part. A cricket match in September between imams and priests is also in the pipeline, Mr Yunus said.


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