Refugees take centre stage for the UNITY EURO Cup
Monday, June 27, 2022
UEFA and UNHCR join forces to stage a special eight-team tournament to highlight football's role in strengthening ties between refugees and their host communities.
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This Wednesday 29 June, mixed refugee teams from across Europe will come together in Switzerland for the inaugural UNITY EURO Cup.
UEFA headquarters in Switzerland will host the first edition of the new amateur competition, which will feature eight refugee teams representing nations across Europe.
Staged in collaboration with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the UNITY EURO Cup will demonstrate and celebrate football’s power to strengthen ties between host communities and displaced people, breaking down barriers and creating a spirit of inclusion.
Competing teams are representing Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Malta, the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland – with each composed of 70 per cent refugees and 30 per cent non-refugees. Each of the squads will be accompanied by an illustrious ambassador from the footballing world, providing expert advice as they pursue the silverware.
Meet the teams
Austria's players are members of Kicken ohne Grenzen - an open educational project dedicated to using the unifying power of football to help young people from disadvantaged communities integrate into society. Partly funded by the UEFA Foundation for Children, the programme offers access to regular, free football training and uses specific exercises and coaching methods, also developing participants' soft skills and subsequently provides educational opportunities that facilitate entry into the school system or working life.
Ambassador – Marc Janko is a former Austrian international forward who represented his country 70 times, including at EURO 2016 in France. At club level, he scored regularly in Austria's Bundesliga before enjoying spells in the Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey, Australia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
Belgium's International Devils chose their name to tie in with Belgium's official national teams' nicknames, the Red Devils and the Red Flames. The team is based in Leuven, and play together as the OH Leuven World Team - a collaboration between top division team OH Leuven, the city of Leuven and OCMW Leuven, which provides social care in the city. Since 2017, the project has given refugees the opportunity to practice their favourite sport through quality training and competitions, as well as building a local network, learning Dutch and focusing on team spirit and tolerance. The team now consists of 25 players with 10 different nationalities.
Ambassador – Mbo Mpenza is a former Belgian international, born in Zaire (now DR Congo) who moved to Europe at just two months old. Alongside twin brother Emile, he represented his adopted nation at two World Cups and UEFA EURO 2000 – in doing so becoming the first players of African origin to play for Belgium at a major finals.
Team France is reinforced with support from players who are representing Hospice Général in Geneva, bringing a truly international feel to the squad, which features several refugees now settled in Paris. Also among the group is ambassador Laura Georges, herself a former French international with almost 200 caps who lifted the UEFA Women's Champions League twice! She will bring much-needed experience, and is looking forward to the tournament.
"A tournament about sharing, solidarity, respect, discovery and consideration for others - these are values close to my heart and stand for what football should always try to achieve," Georges said.
Germany will be represented by FC Motor Neubrandenburg Süd, a small club in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in north-eastern Germany. Although founded relatively recently, it already has more than 200 members, about 40 per cent of whom have a migration background. There are 24 different nationalities among their players, coaches and staff. The club plays an important role in its rural region, helping refugees integrate into local society. The players are looking back on a successful 2021/22 season, when both men’s teams won their league competitions.
Ambassador – Jimmy Hartwig was one of the first black players in German football. The son of an African-American soldier and German mother, he played twice for West Germany and enjoyed a successful career in the Bundesliga, winning the European Cup with Hamburg in 1983.
Team Italy features a group of three female players and their coach hosted in Florence following their arrival from Afghanistan. They are joining forces with players from the Italian Football Association's RETE project, which has helped more than 2,600 people from disadvantaged backgrounds integrate into their communities, and is partly funded by the UEFA HatTrick programme. The RETE group is mainly made up of players from Senegal.
Ambassador – Demetrio Albertini played 79 times for Italy and was a World Cup runner-up in 1994. A midfielder with excellent technique, he was a key figure in the great AC Milan team of the 1990s, winning five Serie A titles and lifting the European Cup / UEFA Champions League on three occasions.
Malta's squad is comprised of players from five refugee teams - Ta Qali United, Hal Far FC, Dream FC, Spark FC and LFPF FC – all of which benefit from Malta Football Association (MFA) activities in the country.
Ambassador – Christian Damiano is lending his coaching expertise after a career in the game. The Frenchman, now 72, coached extensively at youth level in his home country before becoming an assistant coach in England with Fulham, Liverpool and Southampton, and in Italy with Parma, Juventus, Roma and Inter.
Republic of Ireland
Team Ireland is made up of young people with a refugee and non-refugee background living in Dublin and has been brought together through the Football Association of Ireland's (FAI) long-standing partnership with Tusla, which provides care and support for young people with a refugee background. Through this collaboration, the FAI has been able to provide opportunities for young people to engage in football locally, via clubs and dedicated social inclusion programmes.
Ambassador – Stephen Kenny is the Republic of Ireland national men's team coach, taking the role in 2020. At club level, he won five League of Ireland Premier Division titles, once with Bohemians and four times with Dundalk, taking the latter to the group stages of the UEFA Europa League in 2016.
SRD Galaïca-Onex is a sports club based near to Geneva which since 1978 has promoted sporting enjoyment, family spirit and a positive atmosphere. Thanks to a partnership with social workers and the Hospice Général, the Geneva-based welfare service, a number of young, unaccompanied migrants have joined the club's various junior sections since 2016, and they competed in the Swiss fifth league this season, gaining promotion to the fourth league for 2022/23.
Ambassador – Murat Yakin is the Switzerland national men's team coach, having also enjoyed a successful playing career alongside younger brother Hakan, in which he represented Switzerland almost 50 times. A national champion three times as a player, he also lifted the Swiss Super League title twice as coach of Basel. Yakin is of Turkish descent.
"I am happy to take part in the UNITY EURO Cup," he said. "It highlights the social significance of football. Football builds bridges between people no matter where they are or where they’re from in the world. If you find a team to join – and with it team-mates and friends – you’ll always feel at home."
UNITY EURO Cup - tournament details
The action will kick off from 10:00 CET on Wednesday, with UEFA Referees’ Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti, who took charge of the EURO 2008 final, set to officiate the tournament’s final at 16:00 CET.
The draw for the tournament, conducted last week by footballing legends Nadine Kessler and Zvonimir Boban, saw the teams split into two groups, with the top team in each group contesting the final. Medals will be presented by UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
Who are the tournament ambassadors?
Austria – Marc Janko (ex-international player)
Belgium – Mbo Mpenza (ex-international player)
France – Laura Georges (ex-international player)
Germany – Jimmy Hartwig (ex-international player)
Italy – Demetrio Albertini (ex-international player)
Malta – Christian Damiano (ex-international coach)
Republic of Ireland – Stephen Kenny (men’s national team coach)
Switzerland – Murat Yakin (men’s national team coach)
Supporters and the public are welcome to attend the action at the Colovray Stadium in Nyon, with opportunities available to meet the ambassadors. Access to the event is free and no tickets are needed.