Opening Ceremony on January 28, 2017, marking the start of the second National Unity Day in South Sudan
On January 28, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of South Sudan, held an Opening Ceremony to kick-start its second National Unity Day in South Sudan's capital of Juba. Aimed at promoting peace and unity throughout the newly established country, the nine-day national sports event built upon the successes of last year's National Unity Day where 350 athletes competed in football and track and field.
The theme of this year's event, "Sports for Peace and Unity," articulates JICA and the Government of South Sudan's mission to demonstrate that the country can engage in fair play, team work, and a sense of united national pride, regardless of its ethnic groups. The national sports event was attended by the First Vice President H.E. Taban Deng Gai as a guest of honor, along with other dignitaries of South Sudan's Government. The event also included a live performance by Emmanuel Kembe, a famous South Sudanese singer who spent 14 years in exile after escaping imprisonment for his popular protest song, Shen-Shen.
At the Opening Ceremony, a speech was delivered by Ms. Atong Demach, on behalf of the President of JICA. Ms. Demach, who was famously crowned Miss World South Sudan in 2011, and later crowed as Miss World Africa, used her platform to emphasize President Shinichi Kitaoka's message of comradeship and kinship to an audience of approximately 8,000 people gathered at the Juba National Football Stadium.
While emphasizing unity across South Sudan, Mr. Kitaoka's message described how the event itself was organized with the collaboration of various coalitions and stakeholders across the country. In his statement, Mr. Kitaoka mentioned that the rules of the football games were planned and agreed upon by a consortium of coaches, athletes, and citizens from varying demographics across the nation. This year, suggestions for the rules of the games were even accepted from local radio stations and social media platforms to ensure that a diverse array of South Sudanese voices were heard in the rule-making process. Mr. Kitaoka highlighted that this inclusive national input helped to promote fairness and equality for the athletes and the fans attending the games.
Female South Sudanese athletes walking in at the Opening Ceremony held at the Juba National Football Stadium
In the end, the second National Unity Day was an enormous success. Approximately 500 young South Sudanese athletes from 12 cities participated in the nine days of games, and there was widespread media coverage of the national sports event. On the last day of the games, families from across the country tuned in to watch the final match of the football tournament between Rumbek and Aweil. After Rumbek emerged as the victors, the First Vice President awarded medals to the athletes, while also congratulating Aweil for their good effort and peaceful defeat.
While the second National Unity Day has come to a close, JICA looks forward to continuing its support to unify and strengthen South Sudan in the coming years through the use of sports. Last year, JICA invested funds to help South Sudan send its top athletes to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. As South Sudan continues to thrive and unify its nation, JICA looks forward to seeing the South Sudanese team again in 2020 waving their national flag proudly on the global stage, this time in Tokyo.