World Refugee Day Mixed Sports Tournament


On Thursday the 20th of June, we celebrated World Refugee Day on Lesvos, with a special football tournament between students from a local Greek academy and Unaccompanied minors. World Refugee Day is all about promoting awareness towards the situation for refugees, creating understanding and solidarity between different communities. The sports tournament was a great example of how we can do that with the younger generations. We spoke to Tirza, our sports coordinator for a summary of the day! 

All 22 boys from the Odysseas Elitis academy, including two coaches and two referees came to take part in football games with 60 unaccompanied minors, in the local football field in Thermi. The tournament started with everyone standing in one big circle and the boys greeted each other with a hand shake. After some explanation, the teams were made and the matches started. 

The most important thing we did with the teams is making sure they were mixed. We didn't play unaccompanied minors against Greek boys. We wanted everyone to play together, beside each another, seeing each others qualities and strong points instead of differences. In the beginning we noticed that the players were hesitating to talk to one another, but later everybody relaxed and started to enjoy themselves.

The ball connected people, took away barriers and broke preoccupations. Players did not know each others names, or speak each others languages, but they all found ways and signals to communicate with each other. They also watched each others matches while waiting for their turn to play and celebrated each goal together. 

When the orange team scored a goal, the Greek goalkeeper ran to his Afghan teammate, gave a high five and said “yeah goal!" The other answered, "Bravo keeper." The smiles on their faces and the sparkling eyes are difficult to describe. After one match a Greek boy said a new friend he had made, was the best goalkeeper and that he wanted to play with him again. Another one of the Greek players saw his Afghan team mate playing well and he said to his coach, “That’s a nice player. We need to have him on our team next year.”  

There was great support from the sidelines throughout the match, with banners saying, “No War, Peace” and “Peace”, “Smile” and “Share Together” written in Kurdish, Farsi, Dutch, France, Greek and Arabic. Girls from the safe zone who came to watch the game made a poster, "We all live under one sky.” 

The match was also a good time to reflect on the positive impact the futbolNET program is having on the development of the Unaccompanied minors. The boys who have been taking part in the program were playing in a more social way, including everyone in the match. Some of the Greek players were surprised that the refugee children were so open and willing to socialise, that they had great sportsmanship and spirit. The academy's Greek coaches said that the refugee players were very kind and polite, looking out for their team mates in the match - which is exactly what they were also trying to teach their own players and what they wanted to see when playing. 

“Children hear a lot of stories, they don’t know what the truth is. Now they can see things for themselves, that the refugee boys are boys like them, that they both love to play football,” said one of the Greek coaches.

By the end of the day, management from the Safe Zone who came to see the match were left asking - "When we will organise this again?" The coach from the Greek boys was also enthusiastic and eager to arrange it again. 

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