“I miss you! We’ll settle scores outside,” Amadou Sarah Bah points to one of his teammates at the end of training and laughs as he picks up the gym bag. He is the captain of a team of 23 people, just over half of whom are asylum seekers. His level of Spanish allows him to work as a translator, when necessary, between coaches or physical trainer and the rest of the players, as well as to act as a bridge in a team that integrates several nationalities into its ranks: Guinean, Moroccan, Malian, Colombian, Senegalese, Spanish …
It all began on July 20, Refugee Day, 2019: “At that moment the idea was launched and in October we gave it an initial push,” says Rosa Quinionero, incorporation technician at CEAR Alicante. Although the initiative was born in a modest way, a series of coincidences and support led to a paradigm shift for the team in less than two years of its existence: the approach of two volunteer soccer coaches, a small private funding allowed for the first steps, the subsequent concessions by the Jesuits. He left the football field one day a week to train, and later supported the La Liga Foundation. “Having professionals in the field, who have very structured training, made the team professional and made the players stick a lot,” says Kenyonero.
So much so, that they reached the final stage of the league they are playing in, before the play-off matches. They themselves noticed the jump: Amadou is proud when he said that they win almost every match. “The first game we played after breaking the epidemic, we won 4-0,” he recalls. “We came back with great enthusiasm: We had a group on WhatsApp and kept talking there, but I was constantly asking when we would start playing again,” he adds. The leader is clear: to him, the team is – he says – his friends – very important. “We discovered that they had no places of entertainment where they could forget for a while the difficult life stories behind them, and that they also lacked spaces to interact with non-refugees,” says Kenyonero.
Although during the first months of its existence the team consisted only of asylum seekers, this changed later. Volunteers from the city started to register, like Javier Garrido: “I loved it because I saw a wonderful integration project. Eight years ago, I had to leave Spain to find a life for myself, and I was hoping to be able to participate in such an initiative, to be able to integrate a little more into The place, my favorite sport, and a little detachment from everything from day to day, meet people … “.
In this sense, Laura Gonzalez, Regional Coordinator for CEAR Alicante, explains that the soccer team was seen as part of the itinerary followed by asylum seekers entering their program: “We know that sport unites, and it conveys certain values of teamwork, solidarity and respect. … We envisioned this as part of the inclusion process in which we work within the reception program. ”It also makes it possible to eliminate stereotypes among the refugees themselves, as he continues:“ We tend to think that everyone agrees because they participate in the asylum application, but This isn’t always the case, and it helps a lot to break down cultural barriers. ”Javier Garrido highlights this atmosphere:“ There are no fights, no screams, or people who want to be the protagonist. You could say you came here to enjoy your time. “
Last Sunday, I breathed that camaraderie. Rosa Quinonero says that when he started training, the players had very little technical knowledge about football: “Everyone who has played football in Spain, whether at school, with friends or with family, knows some very basic things. They haven’t, And we had to work on it. ” Ces Moussa, 23, from Guinea Conakry who has been with the team since its inception, confirms: “ABefore we knew hardly anything about the rules of football, we learned a lot now, and we are improving and knowing the positions: How do you play while you are a striker, a defender, a winger … ”During the game, the ball constantly switches from standing to standing.“ They are playing as a team, ”Rosa Quinonero sums up.
Communication is also a barrier that has been broken. While Spaniards are learning some French, football acts as an effective mechanism for asylum seekers to improve their level of Spanish. Amal Hussain, outreach technician at CEAR Alicante, considers it particularly relevant: “Classes can make it more difficult, and here they train the language in a different way: No teacher gives you instructions, but they try to do it more effortlessly because they really want to explain themselves. They pay more attention to vocabulary when it comes to comprehension and transportation. “
Another advantage that Laura Gonzalez sees on the team is the presence of both asylum seekers and the players that he calls, paradoxically, “the extra community” – city volunteers – that new options are opening up for weaving networks: “One of our volunteers works in a dental clinic, another in a school, and another in a clinic.” Electric … In the end, many jobs are acquired because they know you, so I think this opens up a world of possibilities for them to enhance this process of entering labor, ”he explains.
In addition, they advocate that the initiative helps with self-concept of refugees: “When they are on the field they don’t think they are seen as refugees, and now they are the champions, they are playing well for a prize in the most prestigious amateur league in Alicante.” Gonzalez explains. Hussein supports her: “You have a goal on the field. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what language you speak, you have a ball, you are a team and you have to look for it.”
However, the positivity is not within the team, nor even on the field. For CEAR technologies, football is a huge sport and a very simple way to get a message across: “Watch people of all ages and nationalities play and have fun, no matter what religion they practice… This is the best message against hate, a sign that there are more things that unite us than divide us.” Kenyonero summarizes. Gonzalez supports her: “A lot of people come and when they see that they are refugees, they come close and ask where they come from. They are curious and start to eliminate prejudices; it is as if you have already planted something in these people.”
Both, and the team participants, have great confidence in the initiative and their project. They want to export it to other cities and make it grow. However, they have many disabilities, mainly administrative, due to the status of the asylum seekers from those who make up the team. Gonzalez recalls a disturbing fact: In Spain, only 4 in 100 applicants obtain refugee status or some form of protection. That makes it difficult to unite, which is something Rosa Quinonero would like to see happen. They also want to organize a mixed tournament: In the league they play in, women cannot participate, although some do attend training sessions from time to time.
For now, they are content to continue to allow dozens of people to find space for exchange, relief and coexistence, and it appears that this is from the stands. And if so, keep winning matches.
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