For the first time, Latvia was represented in the UNHCR-UEFA UNITY EURO Cup to highlight the inclusionary power of sport. Scroll down to watch the video.
Football brings people together. For Artem, Oleh and Dmitro from Ukraine, football was the key to settling in and regaining a sense of normalcy in Latvia.
Before being forced to flee their respective hometowns in Ukraine following Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, the three of them all played football. After arriving in Riga, they each set out to find football clubs to join as a step towards getting to know locals in Latvia and as a break from the stress and challenges from fleeing and starting over.
“For me, starting to play football again was an additional driving force to feel normal again, to feel like I am living a normal life,” Dmitro explains.
For the first time, Latvia this year participated in the UNITY EURO Cup – a football tournament organized by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and UEFA for teams of refugees and locals from across Europe. The UNITY EURO Cup was launched in 2021 as an initiative to highlight the role of football in bringing together refugees and host communities and fostering a spirit of inclusivity and integration.
In June 2023, 15 teams from European countries came together for the tournament that this year was held in Frankfurt, Germany. The Latvian team, led by the Latvian Football Federation, consisted of players with refugee background as well as three locals, both women and men.
“Unity Cup is a perfect place and tournament for inclusion of refugees in society,” said Alise Pētersone, Football Social Responsibility Manager at the Latvian Football Federation.
Through their weekly training sessions, the players and their families have made new friends, and some of the players have also found volunteer opportunities through the football club. Moreover, the training sessions have allowed the refugee players to improve their Latvian language skills and get a chance to represent the country that took them in.
“It is an honour just to participate in the championship, especially to represent a country that took you in,” Artem explains. “It makes me want to represent it as well as possible, to appear worthy of the chance given.”