“United We Play”: Football brings children together on Lesvos island
© UNHCR/Vangelis Papantonis
“Sport unites and knows no discrimination. I hope we all enjoy, score beautiful goals, and have an incredible day!” said the former international football player Takis Fyssas opening the solidarity tournament “United We Play” in Mytilene, Lesvos, earlier this month.
It proved to be an incredible day for those participating on 9 July at the Municipal Stadium of Mytilene, with thanks to the local municipality, the Greek Legends 2004 and the NGO Champions For Life in partnership with the UEFA Foundation for Children.
Over 100 children from the local football academies of Lesvos, as well as unaccompanied refugee children and children living in the reception centre of the island, took part in the tournament. Each of the Greek Champions of EURO 2004 who traveled to Lesvos brought a message of solidarity and compassion, and took a group of young athletes under his wing providing knowledge, experience, and advice on the values of football on and off the pitch.
“This is a project that is close to our heart” said Urs Kluser, General Secretary of the UEFA Foundation for Children, which implements programmes around the world using sport to support humanitarian action linked to children’s rights. “The particular condition for this youth event on Lesvos is that we work together with mixed groups, boys and girls, refugees and locals, and we have the Greek Legends coming here and bringing a lot of joy to it. They are very much involved in this!”, he added.
The Greek Legends did what they do best, they played ball passionately and mentored and inspired the young athletes, even if most of the children were not even born when Greece won the European Football Championship in 2004!
The moment of a goal during the women's match of the tournament 'United We Play', at the Municipal Stadium of Mytilene. © UNHCR/Vangelis Papantonis
Fanis Katergiannakis, who won the European Championship of 2004 with the National football team of Greece, does a high-five with a refugee player after scoring a goal during the tournament 'United We Play', at the Municipal Stadium of Mytilene. © UNHCR/Vangelis Papantonis
Celebrations of a goal with refugees and the Greek Legends 2004, Dimitris Papadopoulos and Giorgos Karagounis. © UNHCR/Vangelis Papantonis
Stelios Venetidis, who won the European Championship of 2004 with the National football team of Greece, signs a ball during the tournament 'United We Play'. © UNHCR/Vangelis Papantonis
Theodoros Theodoridis, the General Secretary of UEFA, watches the tournament 'United We Play' with the Greek Legends 2004, Antonis Nikopolidis and Pantelis Kafes, at the Municipal Stadium of Mytilene. © UNHCR/Vangelis Papantonis
Jason Hepps, Deputy Representative of UNHCR in Greece, discusses with the Greek Legends 2004 Giorgos Karagounis and Angelos Charisteas, during the closing ceremony of the tournament 'United We Play'. © UNHCR/Vangelis Papantonis
Three balls designed by young people around the world within UNHCR's contest 'Together Through Sport', given as a gift to the winning teams of the tournament 'United We Play', at the Municipal Stadium of Mytilene. © UNHCR/Vangelis Papantonis
Commemorative photo of the Greek Legends 2004 with all the official guests of the tournament 'United We Play', at the Municipal Stadium of Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece. © UNHCR/Vangelis Papantonis
“Sport offers motivation to children”, the Greek Champion Giorgos Karagounis explained. “Like it motivated the girls here today that joined us on this pitch. You never know, one day they may want to play football, and this will help them pursue their dream with an even greater passion!”
Despite the rain that interrupted the games, the children on Lesvos enjoyed spending time together and playing with their peers, while for refugee children the event was a positive surprise.
“It was the first time in my life I entered a football stadium! I could never imagine how it would feel like to be in a stadium and play with other children”, said an unaccompanied girl hosted in a shelter run by Hliaktida NGO on Lesvos. “From now on, I would like football to be part of my life!” she added enthusiastically.
“Children here today will have a great memory for the rest of their lives”, added Jason Hepps, UNHCR Deputy Representative in Greece. “With a bit of sun, a bit of cloud, and big smiles, some wins, some losses, but everyone is coming together in celebration.”
Sport has proven time and again to be a powerful means of bringing people closer, offering hope and supporting social inclusion. UNHCR is proud to partner globally with UEFA to support refugees’ access to sport through activities like the event on Lesvos.
The tournament in Mytilene was attended by the UEFA General Secretary Theodore Theodoridis and the Greek Legends Aggelos Charisteas, Antonis Nikopolidis, Vassilis Lakis, Dimitris Papadopoulos, Giorgos Karagounis, Nikos Dabizas, Pantelis Kafes, Stelios Venetidis, Takis Fyssas and Fanis Katergiannakis.