Hope through sports

Evan Wyatt, Staff Writer

Going on four years, the Middle-Eastern nation of Yemen has been engulfed in an absolutely brutal civil war. An Iranian, Hezbollah, and North Korean backed Houti movement has split from the internationally recognized and US Saudi Hadi government in an attempt to wrest control. A dynamic and dangerous third party is also involved in the form of the Yemen branch of ISIS, known as ISIL-YP.

The civil war in Yemen has produced one of the most volatile humanitarian crises of the 21st century. The chaotic nature of the conflict has prevented an exact count of death, but it’s highly likely that tens of thousands of combatants and civilians alike have been killed. This number is likely to increase heavily as upwards of 10 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation. This situation is incredibly dire and humanitarian aid has been slow. Compounded by these issues is a cholera outbreak with upwards of one million cases.

Despite all of this, however, one respite for Yemenis has been the Yemen Men’s Soccer Team. The qualification rounds for the 2018 Asian Football Cup began in 2017. Yemen was placed into a group with Tajikistan, Nepal, and the Philippines. There would be six matches, every team played every team twice, and Yemen had to come out in second to reach the Cup. Every match was critical for Yemen and very dangerous. Because their nation was in the midst of a violent and bloody civil war, none of their qualification games could take place in Yemen. This meant that for every game, they often had to make long, dangerous journeys overland to ports in which they got on boats to leave the country. The team was not immune to its own violence; several players were killed over the course of the violence.

Yemen’s qualification was a miracle on its own. Upon arriving at the tournament, not much was expected of the team, and the results have proved this, losing all three group stage games to Vietnam, Iraq, and Iran. However, the fact that a team qualified among the adversity in which they qualified is extraordinary and serves to remind how unifying and inspiring the world game can be.