Football teams across Europe unite to welcome Syrian refugees

Football teams across Europe unite to welcome Syrian refugees
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Published September 9th, 2015 - 16:06 GMT via

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Source: @markito0171
Source: @markito0171

German sport is reflecting the country's political and grassroots response to the refugee crisis with a number of initiatives to help migrants.

Elsewhere in Europe, several projects are being launched by football fans and clubs, both professional and amateur, to welcome refugees and provide material and other support.

In Germany, where Bayern Munich last week pledged to organize a training camp for refugees and raise 1 million euros (1.12 million dollars) for refugee projects, many clubs and fans are running initiatives.

On Tuesday evening, German second division side St Pauli invited 1,000 refugees to a friendly match against Borussia Dortmund in Hamburg held under the slogan "Refugees Welcome." Child refugees escorted the players onto the pitch.

Dortmund defender Neven Subotic, whose family left Serbia for Germany in 1990, said: "When I think of the way refugees are being welcomed in Germany I get goose pimples."

St Pauli coach Ewald Lienen said football cannot do a great deal and a single match won't help people with their everyday concerns "but we can make a statement which is incredibly important."

Professional sport, which is sometimes accused of ignoring social problems, could in fact now be criticised for making token gestures which boost sport's image as much as providing support to refugees.

"The whole thing does of course have a symbolic dimension, that is something you cannot deny," said sport scientist Juergen Mittag of the German Sport University in Cologne.

However he points out that many small sports clubs are also helping by making sports halls and other facilities available, donating clothing and the like.

Sport - especially football - also has significant position in German society and "cannot simply stay out of it."

Shows of support for refugees are expected around Germany's football stadiums at the weekend when the Bundesliga resumes following an international break.

After recent photos of German fans holding Refugees Welcome signs at matches, a fan movement has also begun in England showing support for the refugees.

A Twitter account, @RefugeesEFL, has called for a "Day of Solidarity" across the 92 teams in the top four divisions for Saturday to send a message to the British government.

The event will coincide with UK Home Secretary Theresa May's meeting with EU leaders two days later to discuss the crisis.

Aston Villa fans were one of the first groups to sign up to the call for support and will display a Refugees Welcome banner at Sunday's televised game at Leicester.

The support is so far mainly a grassroots movement, although the Premier League is not short of money after a 5.14-billion-pound (5.75-billion-dollar) television rights deal beginning next season. England's top-flight clubs have spent 870 million pounds on summer transfers.

Europe's leading football clubs do however aim to generate up to 3 million euros to charities supporting migrants by donating income from ticket sales for upcoming Champions League and Europa League games. "Football too has responsibility," European Club Association chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

In Italy, Roma launched the global charity Football Cares to help refugees with donations to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Save The Children, International Rescue Committee and the Red Cross.

The club's spokesperson for the initiative is their board member Mia Hamm, one of only two women included in FIFA's 125 greatest living players.

"Football has once again showed its true gift - the ability to bring us all together for the cause of humanity," Hamm said.

In Spain, football giants Real Madrid will donate 1 million euros to help refugees to be taken in by Spain in the next few weeks. However there has been a sluggish response from Spain's sporting institutions to calls from non-governmental organizations to help the migrants.

No other football or sports clubs have yet to follow Real's example, despite NGOs and the media campaigning for help for the migrants.

In Catalonia, radio station RAC1 has asked European champions Barcelona "to consider how they can help. The most important club in the world simply cannot remain on the sidelines in such an emergency."

While football has been in the forefront of help, other sports are also active. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has pledged to donate 2 million dollars for projects supporting refugees.

Compared to the 3.25 million dollars the IOC distributes daily to athletes and sports organizations around the world, the sum is small.

Mittag for his part does not want to make a judgment on these sort of donations; the money pledged by sports authorities will certainly help those in need. "Now it is up to each to say, could one be doing more?" he said.

© 2015 dpa GmbH

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