Refugees help French town to victory in cricket tournament
LIETTRES, France – A group of refugees and asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and other cricket-loving countries has helped a French cricket team to achieve glory in an international tournament.
The Saint-Omer Cricket Club Stars (SOCCS) saw off the reigning champions, the Brussels 12 Stars, to be crowned winners of the Liettres Challenge 1478.
The club first came together in 2016, training in a public park.
"We decided to start a club to structure the team, take part in a championship and provide guidance to the players," says Nicolas Rochas, co-founder and manager of the SOCCS, based in the northern French town of Saint-Omer.
"It goes beyond sport since we assist the refugees and asylum-seekers in their daily efforts to integrate professionally and at school.”
“France has given us a lot."
For the refugees and asylum-seekers, cricket revives an old passion for the game, which is popular in their native countries.
"We love cricket so much because it's a game we've always played,” says Abdullah, a 21-year-old Afghan cricketer. “France has given us a lot so it's a good thing we do positive things too.”
Along with his teammates, Abdullah proudly represents Saint-Omer. He has lived in France for five years after fleeing violence in Afghanistan, and is determined to succeed in his new home. He recently graduated from high school, majoring in mechanics.
"We feel great because we won,” he says. “It's a good thing even for Saint-Omer. People here are kind. Sometimes, when we play, they come see us and ask questions about the game. They're happy because cricket is not very popular here.”
French citizens Françoise and Louis travelled 40 kilometres to watch the SOCCS win in the French hamlet of Liettres, which claims to be site of the first recorded cricket match, in 1478.
"It's a pity just a few French people play cricket,” says Francoise, who is delighted to learn a new sport. “At the same time, it's good for refugees and asylum-seekers because it gives them the opportunity to integrate and learn French."
For the displaced, it is not only about winning. It also about overcoming stereotypes and showing they can contribute to the host community.
"It makes us feel good because this is integration,” concludes Shahid, 17, from Afghanistan. “They show us how to play soccer and we show them how to play cricket.”