John Barnes joins refugees and asylum seekers taking part in the first ever Nations' Football Festival - Refugee Council
June 5, 2001

John Barnes joins refugees and asylum seekers taking part in the first ever Nations’ Football Festival

Refugee Council release

John Barnes, the international footballing legend, will show his support for the Nations’ Football Festival when he joins some of the players for a photocall on Tuesday 26 June at 9.30am. The photocall will take place at the Douglas Eyre Sports Centre, Coppermill Lane, London E17.

The Nations’ Football Festival is the first tournament of its kind aimed at teams comprising of asylum seekers and refugees. Sixteen teams are competing in the eight week tournament, with players from countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Ethiopia taking part. The Nations’ Football Festival provides free pitches, match officials, kit and training courses.

John Barnes said: “It is great to see this footballing initiative taking off with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Football is such an amazing international healer. I have seen from overseas trips with Save the Children how football is used with street children and former child combatants to help instill a sense of personal worth. It makes sense that football is being used for a similar purpose in the Nations’ Football Festival here in the UK.”

Organiser Alex Welsh, Facilities and Sports Development Manager with the London Playing Fields Society explains, “We want to welcome refugees into the football family, so that they can access the benefits that the establishment has to offer.”

Fazil Kawani, Director of Communications at the Refugee Council said, “Asylum seekers and refugees are often not able to participate in sports due to lack of money and opportunity – those living on vouchers cannot afford even concessionary rates for sports activities. Throughout the world there is a shared love of football. This common heritage, captured within the Nations’ Football Festival, is helping bring together refugees with their local communities, breaking down barriers and furthering integration.”

At the end of the tournament a representative team will be selected from all the players to go on and play against others such as university teams, with the opportunity for particularly gifted individuals to showcase their talents to football scouts and possibly advance themselves in the professional game.

For key personnel within each team, there are free training sessions where they can gain the knowledge and expertise needed to form and run a club that will be able to compete within affiliated football. The training includes recognised Football Association (FA) qualifications in coaching skills, administration and refereeing – the London FA is providing the courses which will be run by a trainer who is himself a refugee from Romania. Furthermore the Festival will also direct the participants to other services available to asylum seekers such as language and other classes.

The organisers of the Nations’ Football Festival hope to make the initiative Londonwide next year, and to run tournaments around the country – particularly in dispersal areas for asylum seekers – after that.


Notes to editors:

1. The photocall takes place during Refugee Week (23-29 June 2001). Refugee Week is a celebration of the cultural contribution of refugees to the UK. It involves hundreds of exhibitions, events and activities across the UK, including ‘Celebrating Sanctuary’ on 24 June, and music, theatre and visual arts with the launch of ‘Artists in Exile’. For more information on refugee Week go to or call the information line on Tel: 020 7820 3055.

2. The matches that will take place during Refugee Week are as follows: Monday 25 June 7pm Praxis Panthers (various nationalities) v AFCA Dolphins (African Francophone) 8.30pm ECL Youth (Ethiopian) v Afghan Youth Thursday 28 June 7pm Gascoigne Estate Crew (various nationalities) v Somalian Youth 8.30pm Horn Stars (Horn of Africa) v Sudanese Youth Friday 29 June 7pm United Warriors (various nationalities) v Mauritius Sports 8.30pm Diable Rouge (Congo Brazzaville) v Tamil Athletic (Sri Lanka)

3. The Nations’ Football Festival is organised by the London Playing Fields Society in partnership with the Refugee Council, London Football Association, the Peabody Trust and Leyton Orient Community Sports Programme.

4. The Festival was funded by London Borough Grants. Training equipment has been supplied by Forsport and football kit for each team is sponsored by the Football Foundation. The tournament runs from May 21 – 13 July 2001.