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Refugees get a taste of competitive football through Live Football Play Football project

The Malta FA selection that took part in the Unity Tournament in Nyon.

For the past two years, the Malta FA has been actively involved in the Live Football Play Football project, aimed at promoting and facilitating the integration and social inclusion of refugees as well as Maltese nationals encountering difficulties to integrate in the community. 

The project is under the responsibility of the Malta FA’s Football Social Responsibility Department (FSR) and is funded by the European Union as part of its programme to promote sport as a tool for integration and social inclusion. 

The project has seen the Malta FA head to football Open Centres and football clubs around Malta and Gozo where they not only have organised weekly training sessions but they have also managed to form five teams that participated in various Amateur leagues. 

“The main aim of this project is integration as football is a strong medium to bring everyone together,” Peter Busuttil, the project co-ordinator, said,

“We started this project by holding training sessions in various open centres and football clubs around Malta and Gozo, but as time passed the urge to be involved in competitive action increased. The first competition organised were summer leagues held in various open centres. 

“But then we decided to have our teams compete in Amateur Leagues. In 2020-21 Spark FC competed in the MAFA League while the following season we continued to evolve and had other teams like Ta’ Qali United and Ħal Far FC as well as Dream FC who took part in the Beach Soccer Tournament.

“With Ta’ Qali United  we reached the final of the Swan League while they also played in a Summer League and were declared as winners in what was the first competitive success of our project.”

Busuttil said that such success has spurred them to include a second team in the Swan League this season, Liedna Fgura FC.

“This season we are going to have a second team in the Swan League – Liedna Fgura FC. This is a team formed by U-18 players who hail from the Open Centre at Fgura as well as youngsters from India and Pakistan who are working here in Malta,” Busuttil said.

“AWAS, the government agency, are essential in coordinating these sessions . 

“Our doors are open for any person who would like to experience football at first hand but does not have a team. He can just turn up to our training sessions that are held in various localities in Malta and Gozo.

“Our sessions are not only held in football pitches but also in open spaces where our coaches hold functional training sessions that can eventually lead participants to other sport too.”

The Malta FA’s invaluable work through this project was recognised by UEFA who invited the local governing body to take part in a Unity Tournament that was organised near the European governing body’s headquarters in Nyon, in collaboration with the UNHCR .

“Our participation in this tournament was without doubt the climax of all the work we have done in the Live Football Play Football Project,” Busuttil said.  “We were one of eight football federations that were invited by UEFA for this tournament.

“The team included both men and female players. Seven players hailed from Ta’ Qali United while there were also three female internationals, namely Martina Borg, Brenda Borg and Maya Lucia. There was also two former national team players in Andre Schembri and Gareth Sciberras.

“As coach of the team I invited Christian Damiano, who in his career acted as assistant to Jean Tigana, Gerard Houllier and Claudio Ranieri among others.

“When I made the proposal he accepted immediately and was our coach on the day for this tournament on June 29.

“The team performed well as we beat Belgium and Ireland and lost to Italy and Germany, who went on to win the tournament.

“But apart from the final result it was a memorable experience as we lived at first hand what it means to have integration of different races in one team, having players from France, Mexico, Malta, Ghana and Nigeria.”

Busuttil said that the biggest recognition the MFA received from UEFA was the fact that for the third year running, the local governing body of football had received a Refugee Grant from the European body to continue with its projects.

“Receiving the Refugee Grant from UEFA was a clear show of trust towards our work,” Busuttil said. 

“Since we started with this project we received this grant twice and this year we have again been recipients. We will use this money not just to promote the game of football – on what happens on the pitch – but also away from it.

“We have created a community concept that involves different social situations and a number of participants in our projects are contributing in our work.

“For instance, for the UEFA Conference League match between Ħamrun Spartans and FK Partizan a group of Erasmus students were invited to watch the match. This initiative was co-ordinated by a number of our workers who had started as participants in  our programmes but today are part of our set-up. 

“Added to that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Malta FA needed people to check COVID-19 certificates of fans entering the stadium. Seventy per cent of the stewards used were part of the Live Football Play Football Project.”

Busuttil said that during the past months they have also worked with refugees from the war in Ukraine that travelled to Malta. 

“In the past months, we made contact with the Ukrainian community that fled their country and travelled to Malta,” Busuttil said. 

“We invited them to work with us and one of them, who held a high position in the Ukrainian Federation, conducted a number of training session in the Open Centre in Safi. 

“We also organised a football festival which saw the participation of 110 Ukrainian refugees. We are in continuous contact with them to try and continue holding initiatives with them.”

Anyone interested to attend training sessions or activities organised by the Live Football Play Football project can contact the Malta FA’s Football Social Responsibility Department by sending an email to [email protected]

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