For the last several years Omaha has been home to an international soccer tournament pitting teams, representing eight different countries, against each other for the tile of best in the world. Originally known as the Omaha World Cup, The Omaha International Soccer Tournament is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Marlon Okereke. The goal of the tournament is to bring players from different backgrounds together to engage in fellowship and community building through the game of soccer.
Ironically, even though soccer is the most popular ball sport in the world, it can often become segregated in local areas. While not intentionally so, leagues often are dominated by one particular ethnic group and teams of different ethnicities rarely play against each-other. This is the one thing that the Omaha tournament sought to eliminate. The tournament has grown since its first year in number of teams and quality of facilities. In the first years of the tournament games had to be held in places like Brookhaven Park which offered just enough space for two half size fields jammed between and walking trails.
This year, the tournament was able to relocate to the Bob Campos fields due to the courtesy of the Omaha Police Department. This enabled the tournament to have access to full sized fields which are properly lined and maintained. The relocation also was able to put the tournament in soccer mad South Omaha. While the most causal soccer observer would recognize participating countries such as the U.S.A, Mexico, & Egypt, teams representing other lesser known countries also participate. Teams representing Cameroon, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Somalia & Nigeria rounded out this year’s tournament field. The basis for each team is the fact that each country represented by members of Omaha’s own immigrant population who originate or are descendants from that country.
Much like any international tournament the OIST consists of pool play, along with a knockout round, finally culminating in a championship match. The tournament is also replete with opening ceremonies featuring African dancers, music, and appearances from local dignitaries like the Deputy Chief of Police Gregory Gonzalez and Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing, JR.
The Soccer Tournament just serves as the tip of the spear for an effort that Okereke is heading up. MyDestanati Inc. is the non-profit that benefits from the exposure that the tournament itself generates. Okereke and his band of community leaders seek to reach out to under-served communities through the Destaniti Academy whose goal is to be a conduit for educational and recreational opportunities for under served youth. Programs which enhance the character, employment opportunities, faith, and leadership skills of its participants is the focus of the organization. Eventually the Destaniti Academy would like to provide a youth soccer program that will work to develop soccer skills for youths who are shut out of the pay-for-play youth development clubs that dominate in the USA.
To that end the Omaha International Soccer Tournament will be holding the Golden Ball Award Gala event at the DC Centre on Oct 29th. The goal of the event is to honor the participants of the tournament as well as community leaders who exhibit the values of character, community involvement, and leadership. The night’s festivities will include awards presentations, entertainment by Chrisna Clark, and a screening of a documentary film about the Omaha International Soccer Tournament. More information can be found at the tournament website at http://omahainternationalsoccer.org/ or the gala’s Facebook event page https://www.facebook.com/events/1175628732509270/.