details of the interview
Role of the Interviewed: football/coach
Type of radicalization: ethnic discrimination
Historical period collocation: 2017
Date/Country of the Interview: 06/07/2018, Bulgaria
Interviewer: Sdruzhenie “Shans i zakrila” - Opportunity and Protection Association (OPA)
Have you witnessed or experienced personal situations of radicalization during your activity in sport organizations? What kind of radicalizations have you detected? (Gender, politics, religion, racism, crime, homophobia…)
I'm a football coach and an ex-football player. Last year I trained children in the Registration and Acceptance Centre for refugees in the town of Harmanli, Bulgaria. I was a volunteer in the project “Football and Fun: HEPA for Refugees to Bulgaria”, implemented by “Sports management Bulgaria”. The aims of the project were: improving the health status of the participants, developing personal qualities and establishing tolerant relations between different nationalities and ethnicities. The activities of the project were implemented in the four Registration and Acceptance centres for refugees in Bulgaria and more than 300 children and youth were involved. The centre in Harmanli is the biggest in our country.
I do not think I noticed radicalization, but between the people of different nationalities in the centre there was intolerance and hostility.
Telling your story. What has happened? How has the story started?
When I went to the centre there were about three thousand people there from several nationalities - Syrians, Afghans, Iraqi, Iranians, Kurds. It was difficult to communicate with them because they did not speak other than their mother tongue. I had to get the consent of the parents to train the kids. At first they did not trust me. With the help of a translator, they finally agreed to let their children play football with me.
How did you realize what was going on? What kind of signals could you detect? How do you explain radicalization, referring to your experience?
I noticed that the people from the different nationalities did not communicate with each other, especially the Syrians and the Afghans and I understood that they had often come into conflicts and violence. They were divided into separate groups and even the children did not play together. The team I was gathering was with children aged 10-12, but gradually I involved smaller children because they also wanted to play and finally all the boys were playing football. I stayed up late to be able to play with all of them.
Have you tried to cope with this situation? What was possible to do? What have you done? Have you involved other people/organizations? Who was involved?
My communication with the children was difficult, but from the very beginning I managed to impose strict rules and showed them that they had to be disciplined and that I did not allow conflicts in the team. I was very impressed by the fact that the children of these communities were very respectful of adults and teachers. I understood that the children were not bad, and they just perceived the behavior of the community in which they lived. Then it came to my mind to include the fathers in the game as well. I trained them in the evening. The children I worked with were progressing very fast. There were no conflicts during the game. The children started to achieve success. After just three months of work, we went to the European Street Football Championship for children at risk and we reached the third place. I contacted the coach of the football team in the town Harmanli and with him we decided to organize a town football tournament with the participation of the children from the centre. We wanted to show the community in the town, who were not tolerant to the immigrants, that they are children like everyone else and must be accepted regardless of their nationality or religion. We were pleased to see that during the tournament there were no racist insults and remarks that we had been worried about. Even on the contrary, everyone was having fun. Two of my boys continue to train football in the team of Harmanli.
In addition to the football training, we tried to help children learn Bulgarian in order to communicate with us and even with each other. My colleagues and I provided a Suggestopedia course to them, which is a way of learning through games. I can say that children advanced in learning Bulgarian and we could help them progress not only in sport but in communication as well.
Did you feel you had the skills to manage this kind of situations? Which was the most difficult part of it? Have you had any form of support?
As a coach I have the skills to work with children, to unite them and to teach them to work together and be a team. Now that we've talked about radicalization, I think I'm not well aware of it and maybe I need to get more information on how to recognize the signs and work with children at risk. It would be good if I have the opportunity to participate in a training course on the topic.
End of the story. How did the story end up? What have you learned from this personal experience? What would you say to people who are living similar situations?
I am very happy to say that through sport for nine months of work in the camp, we succeeded in bringing together people from different ethnic groups and making them more tolerant to each other.