Portugal's national football team shows support for refugees

UNHCR receives a public show of support from Portugal's national football team at the start of their latest World Cup qualifying match in Lisbon.

A show of support from Portugal's football stars.   © Portuguese Federation of Football

LISBON, Portugal, September 15 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency received a very public show of support from Portugal's national football team at the start of their latest World Cup qualifying match in Lisbon.

When Portugal and Denmark entered the José Alvalade Stadium last Wednesday, each player was accompanied by a child sporting a T-shirt and cap emblazoned with the distinctive UNHCR logo. As they lined up for the national anthems, the youngsters held up banners in front of the two teams bearing the messages in English and Portuguese: "Portugal Pelos Refugiados" (Portugal for the Refugees).

The message of goodwill, plus the presence of UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, did not bring Portugal any luck on the pitch. Denmark's two last-gasp goals gave the visitors a 3-2 victory in a thrilling Group One match.

The display of support for refugees from one of the world's great national sides came at the end of a day of events to give a public launch to a new network of Portuguese organizations that will help drive the work of UNHCR's Private Sector Fund Raising.

In the afternoon before the World Cup match, Guterres attended an afternoon news conference to publicize the network, HELPIN, which groups Portuguese corporate partners committed to helping UNHCR raise funds for refugees over a number of years.

At a separate meeting, Guterres and Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) President Gilberto Madail signed a letter of intent on future cooperation. The national team and the FPF are supporting refugees as founding partners of HELPIN.

Initially the HELPIN network will focus on providing better nutrition in Africa - a key part of the High Commissioner's special projects. Women, children, the aged, the disabled and those living with HIV/AIDS are the most at risk from malnutrition.

"We are very grateful for this valuable display of support for the work of UNHCR in general and in particular the efforts to address the nutrition problems that we have identified in the past year," Guterres said. "This is the first partnership of its kind where foundations, companies and their customers and employees are all linked in an effort to help refugees."

Last week's high-visibility event was intended to sensitize rather than directly raise funds. But it will lay the groundwork for future fund-raising to support the improved nutrition programmes in Africa.

Although Guterres, a native of Portugal, would have been disappointed at the result of the football match, he said he was very happy at PFP's link-up with HELPIN. And he noted that football was a great medium for spreading friendship and tolerance.