Refugees train in Berlin to become football referees

By Thomas Flehmer, dpa

A group of 14 refugees will soon complete a course by a Berlin initiative to become football referees – which also helps them with integration in Germany.

A football rolls along the sideline on the big screen and training manager Ulver Sava asks whether the ball is out of bounds or not.

The 14 participants agree that that the ball is not out and that play is to continue.

This group aiming to obtain a referee licence at the “Fussball Grenzenlos” (Borderless Football) initiative from Berlin’s football body BFV is made up of refugees, six of them from Afghanistan.

It is the second project of this kind, with 13 refugees participating in the first round, of which “10 are still active, and two others are engaged in social projects in connection with football,” according to Karlos El Khatib who runs the BFV project designed to help with integration.

Among the latest group is 16-year-old Khaled who fled war-torn Afghanistan six years ago, is a pupil at a Berlin high school and plays for local club Rot-Weiss Hellersdorf.

“There were rarely referees at our games, then the opposing team provides the referee and we sometimes feel disadvantaged,” Khaled says in explanation why he has joined the course which runs until mid-January.

He is the youngest member of the group, while others heard about the referee training while participating in coaching schools which have been offered by Fussball Grenzenlos since 2016.

This group includes 32-year-old Murtuza Ali Zada, another refugee from Afghanistan who came to Germany in 2016 and after playing football in refugee camps has now founded a club at his current home of Forst near the Czech border.

“I hope that our team will soon be included in the eighth division,” Zada says.

In order to get the licence the team named “Lausitzer Loewen” (Lausitz Lions) must provide a referee, and Ali doesn’t mind the 11 four-hour trips to Berlin because “I always want to learn.”

That applies to all the 13 participants who speak good to very good German, which according to El Khatib effectively makes the two interpreters (one for Arabic, the other for Dari) obsolete.

The dedication also impresses training managers Sava and Stefan Schumacher.

“I feel it is a special course,” says Schumacher, who was also involved in the first course which he left “with a good feeling.”

All are aware that violence against referees is not out of the question as several incidents have been reported in lower German leagues.

Khaled admits he is “a little afraid” but Schumacher says the referees won’t be alone in their first matches. Zada reassuringly says “there has never been any trouble” at matches with his team over the past two years.

The aspiring referees hope for more communication, regardless whether with Germans or others, on the pitch in their effort for integration into the game and society.

Many still live in camps while Khalid and his family have found a flat in Berlin, and Zada is working as a janitor at a kindergarden in Forst.

“It is about being a part of the whole thing and not being on the fringes, the same motivation other referees have as well,” El Khatib says.

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