The Ismaili Council versus Mukhi-Kamadias was a showdown that no one had expected, but everyone revelled in. It was the most popular match at the Premier Cup cricket tournament held earlier this spring.
More than 100 players aged 16–75 and representing 13 Jamatkhanas across Ontario came to Brampton with their families to participate in the cricket event that took place in April. The annual tournament has been organised since 2012 by the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for Ontario (AKYSB), and while it brings Ismailis together, it is also part of a wider community effort to support families in Toronto neighbourhoods that are home to large South Asian immigrant communities.
“This was an excellent opportunity to expose this sport to other Canadians who may not have tried it before,” says Abdulsultan Madhani. Four years ago, Madhani and a committee of parents and students from the Valley Park Middle School started the Valley Park Go Green Cricket Field project to offer youth opportunities to engage in healthy activities through the sport. Now a community-led not-for-profit corporation, the initiative delivers free programming and funds upgrades to local fields that serve the communities in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park neighbourhoods – among Canada's top destinations for South Asian Muslim immigrants.
Roughly one-third of Thorncliffe's population is from Pakistan, with another 10 per cent coming from Afghanistan. The area is also home to a large number of Shia Ismaili Muslims, many of whom put down roots when they arrived in Canada in the 1970s.
The Premier Cup tournament raised CAD $10 000 in support of the Valley Park project, but the Ismaili community has also facilitated significant longer-term partnerships for project. With the help of Bahadur Madhani, former chair of the Ontario Trillium Foundation's grants review team, Valley Park received $500 000 in funding from the Foundation. Cricket Canada community coach Nizar Moosa has helped Valley Park to train coaches and youth.
“Your community's efforts to assist us truly reflects His Highness the Aga Khan's emphasis – as displayed through the Aga Khan Development Network – on civil society and the importance of philanthropy to heal the world,” said Lisa Grogan-Green, co-chair of the Valley Park project, speaking at a gala dinner celebrating the Premier Cup.
“The AKYSB's efforts will improve the lives of youth and families living in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park,” she continued. “It also exemplifies your leadership in embracing diversity and plurality, not to mention in raising cricket's profile as Canada's fastest growing sport.”
While the Ismaili community and Valley Park work together on a large-scale to improve the quality of life of youth and families, the Premier Cup was about having fun for one weekend.
Back on the cricket pitch, the Ismaili Council won the match against the Mukhi-Kamadias, but in keeping with Jamati tradition, unity and sportsmanship prevailed. “It was a pleasure to see our Jamati leadership come out, participate, and support the event,” says Shehzad Patel, Premier Cup programme manager for AKYSB.
A smile and a wink hint at the possibility of a rematch next year.