When we look back on Summer 2008, we will no doubt ask ourselves which was the greatest international sporting event of the year. The Olympics? The European Championships? Or was it the titanic encounter between a Refugee Week XI and the UK Parliamentary Football Club?
The event was organised by the Refugee Council to raise awareness of Refugee Week amongst Parliamentarians, and to get them to be part of a positive encounter with refugees during Refugee Week. As it happened, the Parliamentarians were busy playing a team from Sky News during Refugee Week (they were thrashed, apparently), so the match didn’t take place until a little while afterwards.
The excitement was palpable as the Refugee Week XI – including players from Somali, Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia and DRC – assembled in the incongruous surroundings of Chelsea, with the Royal Hospital in the background. The Royal Hospital is the home to the Chelsea Pensioners but it could have done with having an Accident and Emergency wing because in the warm-up to the match, the Refugee Week XI’s star player did himself a terrible injury and had to be rushed to a proper hospital.
The MPs arrived, along with their staff and officials from the Football Association, and the game began. Despite having never played together before, the Refugee Week team performed creditably in the first half and went in to the break with the score at 1-1. In the second half the Refugee Week team defences broke down a little, and the final score was 4-1 to the MPs.
After the match, Refugee Council Chair of Trustees, Douglas Board, made a short speech explaining the importance of Refugee Week and thanking the MPs for their participation and observing how much refugees and parliamentarians have in common: both pilloried in the media, and both having an understanding of the importance of democracy.
During the presentation of medals, it was great to see MPs and their staff mingling with the Refugee Week team, swapping T-shirts and looking forward to another, bigger and better match next Refugee Week.