UEFA and UNHCR joined forces to stage a special eight-team tournament at UEFA HQ to highlight football's role in strengthening ties between refugees and their host communities.
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Germany triumphed on penalties after a 2-2 draw against Switzerland in the final of the very first UNITY EURO Cup – a new tournament launched by UEFA and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to promote refugee inclusion.
The tournament featured amateur teams consisting of a mix of refugee and national amateur players, both female and male, from eight UEFA national associations: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Malta, Republic of Ireland, France, and Switzerland.
UEFA President, Aleksander Čeferin
"This beautiful tournament can remind us how much impact sport has on our daily lives, in this case, the ones of the refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. Strong messages of love and tolerance were sent from the UNITY EURO Cup, amplifying what the UNHCR and UEFA partnership stands for. It perfectly builds on UEFA's already extensive work in this area, including initiatives and programmes of the UEFA Foundation for Children.
“It is challenging to start your life over in a new place, as not all the new environments are always warm and welcoming at first sight. However, what helps us integrate and bond with others are the familiarities, such as football. Football communities can make a genuine difference in everybody's lives by allowing access to organised football activities, initiatives, and events. No one, especially young athletes, should be denied the opportunity to be part of this magnificent sport, either as an amateur or an elite prospect.
"I cannot think of a better way to learn more about each other than through the game itself. The game helps us grow together rather than drifting us apart. There are too many walls in the world already; we need more bridges."
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi
"When people are forced to flee their homes, they don’t leave behind their aspirations and interests. Sport, and football in particular can play an essential role in helping to create a sense of normality, especially for children and youth, enabling them to adapt to their new lives, be included in their new communities, and reignite their hopes and dreams.
“UNHCR is proud to work alongside UEFA to use the power of football to build a better future for refugees and other displaced people around the world."
The UNITY EURO Cup demonstrated and celebrated football’s power to assist refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people to be included into their host community, breaking down barriers and creating a spirit of welcome, while helping them to remain physically and mentally healthy.
UEFA Chief Refereeing Officer Roberto Rosetti, who took charge of the EURO 2008 final, officiated the tournament’s final. Each of the squads was accompanied by an illustrious ambassador from the footballing world, with local children and families able to watch the action at the Colovray Stadium in Nyon, Switzerland.
Former France international and team ambassador, Laura Georges, who also played in the tournament
"The players are so passionate about football and so happy to be here. Their daily life is not easy, most of them have a difficult background so it's good to be here and to share this time.
"Football is a way to get to know people, to share our passions and include people so they don’t feel by themselves. It can link people and help people to be included in their communities.
"It's good that this tournament can bring people together, the teams are talking between themselves and everyone is getting to know each other. Now, I am very keen to see what we can do in the French Football Federation to continue this commitment."
Former Belgium international and team ambassador, Mbo Mpenza
"I came to Belgium when I was three months old. We weren’t refugees but I understand what it means to be a refugee in a country you don’t know.
"The language is difficult, food is also complicated because you have to eat different things, and then also the environment, neighbours and friends. But thanks to a pitch and a football, you can adapt easily, and football makes that possible.
"Today, we had one Afghan player in our team and there were other Afghans in the other teams. And automatically they got together, they explained their country, they explained the country that had adopted them, around a football. There was one living in Italy, one in Belgium, and thanks to football they were able to talk to each other.
"Team Belgium didn’t win - we wanted to score goals, but we didn’t score very many. But the players didn’t stop smiling. And they were representing Belgium. For me, everyone’s a winner and the players who lost continued to support the others. And that’s what matters. So I am happy to be here with them."
Winners Germany were 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.
Team Germany player, Arturas Osnac
"The whole experience of the UNITY EURO Cup has been very nice. The final was very difficult, it was very sunny and hot but fortunately we could win on penalties. It's a very nice feeling and a great experience.
"Our team has a lot of players from different countries, seven or eight different nationalities, but it doesn’t matter who your team-mates or opponents are, football is wonderful because everybody can play the game."
UEFA's commitment to human rights
This new tournament is the perfect example of how football can play a key role in society.
Refugee support is one of UEFA’s key human rights policies in UEFA’s new sustainability strategy, Strength Through Unity. Therefore, last year UEFA signed a cooperation protocol with UNHCR, supporting refugee access to sport and enhancing social inclusion.
Note to media:
Pictures of the tournament can be downloaded here for editorial use only.