Amnesty UK’s annual ‘Football Welcomes’ programme has kicked off for 2021 and will run throughout April.
Throughout the month, football club foundations from the Premier League, English Football League (EFL), Women’s Super League, Scottish Premiership and non-league and grassroots teams across the country put on events and activities to welcome refugees and people seeking asylum, and highlight the role that football can play in creating more welcoming communities.
Some offer free tickets to a game, some organise a match or tournament, arrange a stadium tour or player appearance. Others use Amnesty’s Football Welcomes Activity Pack in their work in schools, help to spread the word on social media, have first-team players warming up in Football Welcomes t-shirts and feature Football Welcomes in their matchday programmes and local media.
Football Welcomes began as a weekend of activities in 2017 with 30 clubs participating. By 2019, the number taking part reached almost 180, making it the biggest celebration of football and refugees the UK has ever seen. This included over half the Premier League, two thirds of EFL clubs and almost all of the Women’s National League teams.
The programme celebrates the contribution that players with a refugee background make to the game, and the positive role football can play in bringing people together and creating more welcoming communities. For people fleeing conflict and persecution, football can play a hugely important role in helping to settle into a new country and culture, to make friends, learn the language and get to know the local area.
From the children who fled the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s - who went on to become some of the first refugees to play professionally in the UK - to the likes of Dejan Lovren, Nadia Nadim and Victor Moses in recent years, refugee players have been making their mark on football for decades.
Other specific projects include:
The English FA has funded a Women’s Football Officer for the Football Welcomes programme to ensure that refugee women and girls are central to this work. Amnesty UK has produced a guide to engaging refugee women and girls in football, and runs training sessions at various points in the year – read more here.
The Football Welcomes Community Project – supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery – works with the Aston Villa Foundation, Club Doncaster Foundation, Leicester City in the Community, Liverpool County FA and Middlesbrough FC Foundation. Its aim is to create a more welcoming environment through football, with local organisations working together to help refugees and people seeking asylum develop a sense of belonging as they settle into new communities. The project is inspired by Germany’s Welcome to Football programme.