Leicester City FC is joining football clubs across the country in celebrating the contribution refugee players make to the game, as part of Amnesty International UK’s Football Welcomes initiative.
The club is teaming up with De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) to host an all-day ‘Football Welcomes – Leicester’ tournament for grassroots teams from the city and across the country. Chelsea and Middlesborough FC will be entering refugee teams from their community programmes, while local charities City of Sanctuary and After 18 will field teams to represent LCFC.
The event took place on Wednesday, 17 April at St Margaret’s Pastures playing fields.
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It is part of a national campaign run by Amnesty International called Football Welcomes, which aims to encourage local communities to work together to create a more welcoming environment for people fleeing conflict and persecution.
Some 120 players will be taking part in the tournament including 11 men’s football teams and three women’s sides. Teams from Chelsea FC Foundation and the Middlesbrough Foundation will be coming to Leicester to play.
Other teams come from organisations in Leicester including the After18 charity, FC Collectivo, LCFC Community Trust, St Matthews and DMU Women’s Football Club.
Khalid Hassan, a refugee from Sudan, plays football at the Watershed on campus and at sessions held at Abbey Park and Victoria Park in Leicester run through refugee support charity City of Sanctuary. Khalid, a huge Arsenal fan, has been in Leicester just over a year and says playing football has helped him to meet new friends.
He said: “Football is good. Every time I find new friends and it’s good to chill out and I’m enjoying it. When you find nice environment like this and everything is available, it’s good.”
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DMU hosts two weekly football sessions for refugees and asylum seekers in Leicester, based at the £1m Watershed sports facility. DMU Sports, working with charities City of Sanctuary, the Red Cross and the LCFC Community Trust, has provided space at the university’s £1m sports facility The Watershed for players twice a week. A women’s team meets on Tuesdays while a men’s team on Thursdays.
Students from DMU’s Futsal team and DMU Women’s Football Team are coaching and running the sessions which are providing a real break for those asylum seekers who are unable to seek work while they wait for the UK government to determine their status.
Student Rasheed Giwa, a second year Computer Science student, has been helping run the men’s sessions. He has been playing Futsal for two years since discovering the sport at DMU. “Usually in sports teams, it’s just going to play football but now I feel like I’m making a difference, I feel rewarded helping people out.”
Tom Daly, football development officer for DMU Sport, said: “Football’s an international language. People can be from different countries, speak different languages but put a ball at their feet and they know what they‘re doing.
“Sessions like this help people get away from certain pressures and situations so rather than being in a room on their own they are socialising and doing more things.”
Sunita Patel, public engagement officer for DMUlocal, said: “It’s a day of showing solidarity for refugees and communities and the positive impact that sports can have on refugee integration. It’s also a campaign which engages particularly with trying to get women and girls into football as well.”
Naomi Westland, Football Welcomes Manager at Amnesty International UK said: “This year more clubs than ever have signed up for Football Welcomes, and we’re delighted that Leicester City FC is one of them. It’s great to see teams across the UK using the international language of football to create connection, respect and friendship across cultures and within local communities.
“With so many people across the globe forced to abandon their homes due to conflict and instability, it’s important that football teams use their platform to send out a clear message: refugees are welcome here.”
From the Premier League champions to grassroots local teams, the football community across the UK will be supporting Amnesty’s Football Welcomes over the weekend of April 27 and 28.
Refugee footballers have been making their mark on the world’s most popular game for decades. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, Chelsea’s Victor Moses – now on loan to Turkish side Fenerbahce – and Paris Saint-German striker Nadia Nadim are among former refugees playing at the highest level.
Posted on Tuesday 16th April 2019