Soccer stars kick off campaign to help refugees
Iconic footballers Lionel Messi and Neymar Junior back collaboration between FC Barcelona Foundation and UNHCR to help people displaced by war and persecution.
BARCELONA, Spain – Soccer stars Lionel Messi and Neymar Junior today kicked off a global campaign that seeks to ensure that millions of refugees have a safe place to live, receive an education and are able to provide for their families.
The FC Barcelona strikers signed a ball to launch the #SignAndPass campaign, which will raise awareness of the plight of 65.3 million men, women and children around the world driven from their homes by violence or persecution, half of them children.
"I am proud to be part of this important initiative to support refugees,” said Messi, the Argentine forward who has netted more than 500 goals for FC Barcelona and his national side. “I hope it will help change the dramatic situation that millions of refugee children around the world are currently experiencing."
The joint initiative by FC Barcelona Foundation and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, was launched at an international gathering of civil society groups, sporting organizations and humanitarian agencies in Barcelona, Spain’s second city.
The "Sign and Pass" Campaign gives people all over the world the chance to show their support for refugees by digitally signing a football online and then passing it on to their friends via social media. By signing the ball supporters add their name to UNHCR’s #WithRefugees petition, which already has over 1.5 million signatures.
“The love of sport brings people together in a unique way. The passion and acceptance that comes from playing and supporting teams can dissolve differences,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, told dignitaries at the club’s Camp Nou stadium.
“I hope this strengthened relationship with the FC Barcelona Foundation, will pave the way for a significant improvement of the lives of millions of refugee children and bring communities together," he added.
During the event, Josep Maria Bartomeu, President of the FC Barcelona Foundation, urged attendees to make a positive contribution to the lives of refugees.
“This is one of the most serious problems that the world has had to face in recent decades,” Bartomeu said. "With over 21 million refugees, more than half of them being children, we feel it is our responsibility to contribute through sport, using it as a tool to achieve social change."
Of the record 65.3 million people forcibly displaced worldwide in 2015 – the last full year for which figures are available – 40.8 million were displaced inside their home countries, while 21.3 million sought safety abroad as refugees.
Among those attending the launch was Paulo Amotun Lokoro, a refugee from South Sudan whose life was changed by sport when he competed in the 1,500 metres at the 2016 Olympic Games as part of the first ever Refugee Olympic Team.
“I strongly believe that sport is a foundation for peace,” said Lokoro, who once guarded his family’s few cattle on the plains of what is now South Sudan. “Sport gives us the possibility to meet people from all over the world. This allows us to get together, share ideas and experience one another through sport.”
“I strongly believe that sport is a foundation for peace.”
The FC Barcelona Foundation also announced the implementation of its FutbolNet programme in refugee reception centres in Greece, Italy and Lebanon starting in July.
It aims to use sport to improve social skills and promote conflict prevention and resolution among refugee children and adolescents, to enhance their emotional well-being and to foster their social inclusion in host countries.
A “sport kit”, which was developed with the help of the FCB's Innovation Hub, will soon be tested in several field locations. It includes innovatively designed sports equipment and operating instructions that can be used in refugee camps, regardless of cultural, climatic and environmental considerations.
The kit will be distributed in refugee settings with the help of partner organizations working with refugee children and young people to improve their well-being.
* Elisabet Diaz Sanmartin contributed reporting from Barcelona, Spain.