Spanish football star Xavi pledges support for refugees in Africa

News Stories, 11 February 2010

© UNHCR/C.Onetti
Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi (right) hands a football to Play4Africa's Jordi Puig.

BARCELONA, Spain, February 10 (UNHCR) Spanish midfield star Xavi Hernández has followed the example of his club Barcelona by giving his support to an initiative that will provide footballs, boots and humanitarian aid to refugees across Africa in the run-up to this year's World Cup football finals.

The 30-year-old, who could play a vital playmaking role for his country in South Africa, pledged his backing for the Play4Africa initiative during a gathering of his fans on Wednesday night in Barcelona. "I'm happy to support this initiative and help refugees," he told UNHCR Representative in Spain Maricela Daniel, who attended the event. The refugee agency is a partner in the project.

Xavi presented a signed football to Jordi Puig, director of Play4Africa, which was launched in Spain late last year to raise global awareness about some of the key problems facing millions of young Africans including poverty, infant mortality, lack of sports opportunities, disease, especially HIV and AIDS, malaria and water-borne diseases and to reinforce their "right to play."

Football fans, especially in Spain, are being asked to donate funds or balls. Barcelona FC, through its Foundation, gave 200 footballs to the cause in a ceremony last Saturday. The club, current football champion of Europe, works closely with UNHCR to raise awareness about the needs of the forcibly displaced and to promote education and sport for refugees, particularly children.

Play4Africa hopes to collect sports equipment and 10,000 footballs from top clubs, companies and individual donors. A Play4Africa convoy will leave the Spanish port city of Almeria on March 6 and make its way down through 14 African countries to Cape Town, where France will play Uruguay on June 11, the opening day of the World Cup finals.

The expedition will distribute the boots, footballs and 11,000 mosquito nets to needy Africans, including refugees in UNHCR-run camps in Kenya, Rwanda and the Sudan.

Barcelona's captain, Carles Puyol, has also thrown his weight behind the campaign. "Sponsor a ball and help refugees; I've already done so," he said in a special video message broadcast at Wednesday's event. "Play for Africa," he added.

By Maria Jesus Vega in Barcelona, Spain