On Sunday 6th August, a team of asylum seekers and refugees from Swansea competed in the first Sanctuary Games. The Games brought together athletes seeking sanctuary from Cardiff, Swansea and Brighton to compete in athletics, table tennis and football. Swansea were victorious in the football, beating Tongwynlais AFC to bring home the trophy.
Teams gathered at the National Indoor Athletic Centre early on Sunday morning for a full day of sport. Amongst the teams were Brighton Table Tennis Club (BTTC) and teams from Oasis and Lynx House in Cardiff. Players came from all over the world, including Eritrea, Iraq and Albania.
Swansea remained unbeaten to get through to the football final against Tongwynlais AFC. The final was hard-fought, with the score at full time standing at 1-1. Swansea players kept their cool to put 3 penalties past the Tongwynlais keeper, while the Swansea goalkeeper kept a clean sheet. Abass Bentaleb was awarded Man of the Match for his contribution throughout the whole tournament.
Football team captain, Khaled Ahmed, said:
“I am very happy to win. I am proud of my team, they work really hard in training and did very well at the tournament. I’m grateful for the volunteers who make this possible. The team enjoys playing football and we are grateful for the support and benefit that playing gives us in our difficult situation.”
Sanctuary Games offers athletes the opportunity to be recognised in their sport in the midst of very challenging personal circumstances. Many of the competitors are still awaiting the outcome of their asylum application, living on asylum support of just £36.95 per week. The Swansea football team, run by Unity in Diversity, is supported financially by Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees, to ensure players have kit and training equipment, and can get to matches.
Wales Cities of Sanctuary Project Co-ordinator, Rebecca Scott, said:
“A refugee arriving in Wales could be the next Jessica Ennis or Cristiano Ronaldo. To enable everyone to reach their potential we have to find ways to remove barriers to participating in activities like sport and arts. Sanctuary Games does just that.”
This is the first event of its kind and organisers hope to build on this year’s success with a bigger event next year. Swansea will certainly be back to defend its football title.