“Football is not an escape, it is a liberty”

On the 10th of September a historical football tournament, The Liberté Cup was held in Dunkirk with the aim to change the way refugees are talked about in the media.

The event was a football tournament set up for refugees in Grand Synthe, France. It wasn’t a political campaign or a charity and it wasn’t asking to open borders. The aim was simple. To change the way refugees are viewed in the media. Football, for the refugees in the camp, acts as a remedy of their everyday life, and for many others around the world too. The Liberté Cup gave the players the chance to express themselves to the world before and after the game, giving them a voice when they usually go unheard.

cww5ruaw8aemlerWe went along to a follow-up event at Amnesty International yesterday evening, where the question was asked: “Can football help the way the refugee crisis is portrayed?“. A panel of guests, including representatives from Yorkshire St Pauli, Athlead and Copa90 looked to answer that.

From how football is intertwined with traveling and culture and only finding out that Senegal wasn’t a dish but an African nation through the 2002 World Cup, to how much of a difference knowing a Zidane turn can make in North Africa, the panel discussed the universal language of football. They argued that whilst football is not a magic bullet to solve the refugee crisis, it can definitely go some way to help improve the lives of these refugees.

In a follow-up interview in September, In Bed With Maradona asked one of the organisers Emily Brancher of Big Balls Media, what it meant for the players:

csalkssxyaa6o_0She explained: “The training was very well received by the players from the camp – it punctuated intense boredom and offered a release from the monotony of camp life. Equally, the tournament offered an opportunity to channel that positivity into one day, and to express themselves on the pitch. The photography helped, offering not only a memento in the form of a photo (we had a photographer at the event taking portraits and offering them to the players as immediate print outs) but also the feeling of being immortalised in a sense, in a context that is very positive. Players were keen to share these photos with their families, to show that they’re in a good place”. (Read Emily’s full interview here)

And lastly, one of the sponsors of the event, The Worldwide Tribe had this to say on the event:

14238077_1757306241221802_4625442667632319799_n“What a special weekend.

I felt so many emotions watching the guys from the camp giving their everything at The Liberté Cup yesterday. Not just physically but emotionally too..they poured their hearts into those games and it showed. When they won, the ultimate joy was evident, as if nothing else mattered, they celebrated as if they didn’t have a care in the world. And when they lost…it broke my heart, knowing that they have suffered their fair share of loss…but they did so graciously. They did it together, as a team, as brothers.

And when they sang the Kurdish national anthem…fuck…that got me…their pride and strength resounded through the stadium.

It was all round great for everyone involved. It was so refreshing to see the guys as a group of guys…playing football…wearing a kit…without the label of ‘refugee’, outside of the environment of a refugee camp.

That’s still where they went back to at the end of the day, though… Back to the camp. Back to reality. Some of them limping from a naughty tackle, their muscles aching, but all of them carrying the internal, emotional scars of experiencing war and persecution, of fleeing their homes in the hope of finding safety.

As I watched, I promised myself again that we will keep doing everything in our power to support them in this dream.”