Welcoming refugees by using football as a uniting language and social space

Activists and grassroots clubs across Europe have placed football at the centre of their efforts to make refugees welcome in Europe by stepping up their efforts to providing newcomers with sporting opportunities and a connection to help find a place in their new communities.

Groups and activists have founded football teams or even new clubs to enable refugees to participate in sport. The provision of football as a uniting language and social space is one element of building new lives and to help people come to terms with experiences of violence, war and hunger.

German activists were among the first to react. In Babelsberg, near the German capital Berlin, the supporters umbrella organisation “Nordkurve Babelsberg” of local club SV Babelsberg 03 have been active supporters of Welcome United Nulldrei since 2014.

The squad of the Welcome United Nulldrei consists of local refugees and has started playing regular league matches this season. A representative of the club said: “Welcome United is more than football. We try to give our players a new home, organise jobs, help with the authorities and sometimes just listen.”

In Leipzig non-league club Roter Stern Leipzig (RSL) organised a Refugees Welcome party last month and picked up over 100 refugees from their temporary home to show them the club’s ground, get to know each other, eat and play football together. The club runs an open training session for refugees every Friday.

Champions without Borders

Champions Ohne Grenzen (CHOG, Champions without Borders) is a non-profit that aims to combat the social segregation of migrants and refugees in Berlin and the surrounding federal state of Brandenburg.

These active Fare members provide regular football training sessions for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, male and female. During the Football People weeks in 2014, CHOG organised the first German Sports Congress on the integration of refugees in German football.

Croatia – ultras and refugees found their own club

The Ultras Bijeli anđeli (White Angels) from Zagreb recently left their club NK Zagreb in protest over mismanagement and corruption, they have founded their own football club together with migrants and refugees.

NK Zagreb 041 aims to integrate everyone via direct democracy and to fight all forms of discrimination. A number of refugees have joined the club and are either supporting the team or are playing in the first squad. On 2 September, NK Zagreb 041 played their first official league match and despite losing 7-0 could not stop the fans and the players enjoying their new status.

United Glasgow FC – a safe space for everyone

Another campaign that has given refugees the possibility to participate in a sport they love and to successfully integrate into the society they were forced to move to, is United Glasgow FC.

The club consists of a mens and a womens team and seeks to provide a safe environment for all players regardless of background and a point of access to regular, structured football for people who have found themselves excluded.

Among the many other groups actively working with refugees through football are: PanamBoyz United in France, FC Ente Bagdad, Germany, RFC Lions SKA FC, Italy; FC Lampedusa Hamburg German; the Cymru Refugee Football League in Wales; Leipzig United F. C.

Football in refugee camps

Fare members Balon Mondial from Turin in Italy joined volunteers and aid groups in the Italian-French border city of Ventimiglia following unsettling images of migrants clinging to rocks off the Italian coast, after camping out for days.

In Ventimiglia, members of Balon Mondial provided legal help and advice to refugees trying to cross the border in the hope of going further north. They also organised football tournaments and matches for refugees.

Some members of Balon Mondial also went to the French city of Calais, one of the biggest migrant camps in Europe – the so called ‘Jungle’ - to provide further assistance to refugees living in the camps there. At the site they hosted a series of matches bringing some relief and distraction for young and older refugees.

Database to connect activity

Fare is in the process of creating a database of grassroots organisations and football clubs that are providing support for refugees or organising training sessions and other opportunities to help refugees find a place. The database will give migrants and activists the opportunity to find out about teams near where they live and how they can get involved.

The database will be launched on farenet.org on 8 October as part of the Football People action weeks. If you know about a team or club that works with refugees or where refugees can get into the game or if you want to set up a group or team, please get in touch and email info@farenet.org.

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