Refugees United: The role of activism and football in supporting refugees

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Abstract

It was a bitterly cold February day and the opportunity to run around a bit was an exciting prospect. Although jeans, hoodie and a coat are not the most practical of football kits, they were essential for staying warm in the camp. Calais in winter is unforgiving as the sea breeze whips off the Channel. It was even harsher for those living in the ‘Jungle', the refugee camp on the edge of the French town. Even though I was volunteering in a medical clinic, the lack of heating provided an added incentive to my task of supplying cups of tea and coffee to those visiting. Wrapping up warm was also essential as I chatted to the young visitors whilst they were either waiting to see a nurse or doctor or simply wanting some respite from the cold. It is a humbling experience to realise that you have few practical or life essential skills, so making tea and having a chat was all I could do. Yet this was also life affirming and it reiterated the power of seemingly mundane social interactions. It quickly became apparent that an easy way to connect and communicate with the predominantly male refugees was through football. The global expanse of European football ensured that Arsenal, Real Madrid and Barcelona were popular and easy topics of conversation. Different people from across the globe, who had vastly different life stories, could connect over a cup of tea and the relative merits of Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. It was a short step from these conversations to having a kickabout. The French authorities had just cleared the southern part of the camp in an attempt to try and prevent more refugees from arriving. At the same time a ‘buffer zone' was created to obscure the camp from the public gaze of motorists on the motorway that whisked people away from the ferry terminal. The buffer zone did provide a flat sandy area that was particularly suitable for football. Jumpers became goalposts and the kickabout commenced. In one emotionally intense weekend, it became clear that football had an important role to play. As a sociologist, volunteering in the ‘Jungle' over
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransforming Sport: Knowledges, Practices and Structures
EditorsThomas Carter, Daniel Burdsey, Mark Doidge
Place of PublicationAbingdon
PublisherRoutledge
ISBN (Print)9781138052246
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2018

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