Football will again “break down barriers” and change lives when an annual tournament for refugees takes place in Glasgow this weekend.
The organisers of the Glasgow European Capital of Sport 2023 Refugee Football Tournament hope the event can propel more young people into elite levels of the sport, having helped the likes of Karamoko Dembele and Islam Feruz in the past.
Both went on to sign for Celtic and represent Scotland at youth level, with the former now at French top-flight side Brest having also turned out for England Under-18s. Feruz was on Chelsea’s books before his career fizzled out following a series of loans at the likes of Hibernian.
The tournament, which takes place at Toryglen Regional Football Centre on Sunday, is also vital in integrating dozens of recent arrivals to Scotland and gets many out of lonely experiences.
One of the main organisers, Abdul Bostani, the managing director of charity Glasgow Afghan United, told the PA news agency: “The tournament started in 2012 with six five-a-side teams. Every year it has grown and now it is a seven-a-side tournament and we have hosted up to 24 teams.
“This is all bringing people together, bringing refugee communities together with indigenous Scot communities.
“Football is an international language, it breaks down all barriers. As soon as you kick the ball, you communicate through football.
“We have managed to bring a lot of people together, bring people out of isolation and out of traumas.
“Over 250 players participate from over 50 nationalities, and thousands of spectators come.
“We never knew we would get to this level and it has more potential in the future. God knows where we will end up but we will do the best we can.”
The competition has helped players of varied standards in different ways.
“We have seen a lot of people who have never been engaged outside of their own sphere in Glasgow,” Bostani said.
“They have participated in this tournament and made friends and contacts.
“Some were even signed to teams because a lot of scouts turn up, and this happens a lot.
“In the refugee and asylum communities, we have a lot of talents who don’t have the connections and this is an opportunity to find friends and teams.
“Karamoko Dembele and Islam Feruz played in this tournament and many other examples – players who are in professional, junior and semi-professional levels.”
Spectators are encouraged to attend and help players feel welcome in their new home.
Bostani, whose team plays in the Scottish Unity Football League, another of the tournament organisers, said: “The door is open to everyone, it is free of charge, everybody is welcome to come and watch and there would be a chance to communicate with people from refugee and asylum backgrounds, and various organisations.
“Glasgow is a welcoming city and the people of Scotland are welcoming refugees and we celebrate this at this tournament.”
The tournament is run in conjunction with Glasgow Life, a charity set up by the city council for the benefit of residents.