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MORE than 160 football clubs across the country are set to take part in the third Amnesty International “Football Welcomes” initiative to celebrate the contribution refugees have made to the game.
The campaign marks the anniversary of the arrival in Britain of a group of child refugees from the Spanish civil war in 1937, six of whom went on to play professional football in England.
Clubs from the Premier League, English Football League, FA Women’s Super League and Scottish Professional Football League Trust have all backed the initiative, which is almost three times the number from last year and will see a weekend of activities across April 27 to 28.
As part of the campaign, free match tickets will be distributed to refugees and people seeking asylum, as well as clubs helping to arrange player visits, stadium tours, or organising matches and tournaments for refugees in their communities.
Some clubs will have first-team players warming up in “Football Welcomes” T-shirts and will also promote the initiative the match-day programmes and on websites.
Ahead of the weekend, human rights organisation Amnesty International has released new data concerning the rise of racism and xenophobia in the game, as authorities, players, clubs and supporters all unite to tackle the issues.
Amnesty International’s survey showed two out of five football fans, around 41 per cent, believe there has been an increase in racism. More than a third (34 per cent) felt there had also been more xenophobia in the game over the last three years.
Almost a quarter (23 per cent) said they had personally witnessed an increase in racism and/or xenophobia, with one in 10 (12 per cent) revealing a personal experience of the increase.
The majority (90 per cent) of football fans agreed that clubs have a responsibility to tackle the issues, with 92 per cent feeling football clubs should be a “force for good” in their local community and praise for the work already done in the local community.
Chelsea Women defender Anita Asante, who is an Amnesty ambassador, welcomed the support for the campaign.
“It can take a lot of integrity and courage to stand up against divisive and hateful actions and rhetoric, but as football players, teams and fans it’s important we all play our part,” she said.
“Lots of people identify with football, wherever they are from and whatever their background. That’s why it’s so heartening to see the footballing community come together for a weekend of welcoming and supporting refugees.”
Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey said: “Refugees have made a significant and lasting contribution to professional football in this country.
“We are proud to support this important initiative to celebrate the impact they have had on the game, while also making local refugees and people seeking asylum feel welcome at EFL matches.”
Amnesty International UK Football Welcomes manager Naomi Westland added: “It’s clear that football is a powerful force for good, bringing people together and providing a sense of belonging.
“We are delighted that more clubs than ever are taking part in Football Welcomes this year.”
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