Chicago, 28 August 2014 – This Labour Day weekend, Ismaili Muslims from across Canada and the United States will gather in Chicago for the inaugural North American Ismaili Games. An expected 1 300 athletes will compete in 12 sports, making the event the largest Ismaili sports tournament ever staged in North America.
“These tournaments have to be one of my favourite things we do as an Ismaili community,” says Jabeen Mohamed. The 22-year-old captain of the Edmonton women's soccer team has competed in Canadian Ismaili sports tournaments for years. “It's an amazing opportunity for all of us to get together, whether it be on a social level of getting to know other people, or to showcase how talented our community really is,” she says.
Together with her team, she has been training hard for the past two months. “It's been a fun but stressful process so I'm kind of excited to just get to Chicago and get the tournament going and really enjoy it,” she says.
Mohamed and her teammates exemplify the
Train–Compete–Unite theme that pervades the North American Ismaili Games, says Salim Gheewala, the tournament's project manager. Overseeing a team of over 1 000 local volunteers and another 300 – 400 visiting volunteers, Gheewala is a veteran – this is the third major tournament in which he has served as project manager.
More than just a competitive sports event, the Ismaili Games is an inclusive platform to promote healthy living. Athletes, spectators and volunteers can join in daily 6:00 AM yoga sessions, take a cooking class featuring healthier traditional recipes, or try activities such as rock climbing, soccer and golf clinics for kids, non-competitive ultimate frisbee, and kite flying.
But the main objective of an event like this is to bring Ismailis together around a shared set of values, Gheewala explains.
“If there are no Ismaili identity values delivered at these Games, there's no reason why we're doing a tournament,” he asserts. This is a unique dimension that sets the Ismaili Games apart from other events by offering young people an opportunity to engage with one another and explore their identity through sport. Many are among the the hundreds of volunteers planning the Games – organising accommodation, transportation, meals, entertainment, and ensuring that the event is pleasurable and memorable for participants and spectators alike.
“The athletes are role models. The staff are role models. The spectators are role models,” says Gheewala.
Jabeen Mohamed wouldn't argue with this. Although she is extremely competitive when she plays for her division one club team at home, the goals she sets for her team at the Ismaili Games are more holistic.
“I think we just want to go into it and make sure everyone's having a good time. You play the sport you love and keep a positive attitude,” she says.
“To me, that's a win in itself.”