Almost a year since civil war broke out in Sudan, the country’s most successful football club Al Hilal say they keep playing to offer “a distraction” to people back home.

The conflict has killed over 14,000 people, forced eight million to flee their homes and the United Nations has warned it could trigger the world’s largest hunger crisis.

The domestic league has been halted but the Sudanese champions have found a way to continue their activity on the pitch by entering into an agreement with the Tanzanian Football Federation (TFF) to play in the country’s top flight from August.

“We are playing during this very sad moment to distract our people from the war,” Dr Hassan Ali, Al Hilal’s secretary general, told BBC Sport Africa.

“The majority of football fans in Sudan sometimes don’t have anything, even during normal times. What they have is victories of Al Hilal, which make them happy with their families.

“It is a moral responsibility. It is not playing for winning points and cups. No, we play for our fans to keep their morale high.”

A club which is almost a century old, and African Champions League regulars, made requests to several other federations across the continent and had received positive responses from Uganda and Libya before settling on a deal with Tanzania.

“We have preferred Tanzania because football there is very progressive and competitive, and we would like to be well prepared for the next competition at African level,” Dr Ali added.

Familiarity with Tanzania was also a consideration for Al Hilal as the East African country was the club’s base during this season’s Champions League campaign, which ended in group-stage elimination.

TFF spokesperson Clifford Mario Ndimbo told the BBC that all clubs in the league support Al Hilal’s inclusion, but their matches will count as friendly games.

“They [Al Hilal] will be on the schedule, but their results will not be included in NBC Premier League results,” Ndimbo said.

“The goal is to help them when the country is in disaster, but also we believe this move will bring positive results as the league will be followed from different places. That will increase popularity and help to increase income for the clubs.”

Playing in Tanzania could also help Al Hilal avoid a mass exodus of players before their participation in next season’s continental competition.

The Omdurman-based club currently has about 10 foreign players on their roster.

“I think it will help Al Hilal to hold on to their players and Florent Ibenge, a coach who is known around the continent and a major part of what they’re trying to do,” Abdul Musa, an analyst on Sudanese football, explained to BBC Sport Africa.

“They need some sort of competition where they can have readiness to compete continentally. If you’re not playing in a league, it’s difficult.”


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