Steven Pienaar: Sport helps unite people and break down barriers.

22 Apr 2018

I was born in apartheid South Africa and I know how sport, including football, can help to bring people together and break down barriers.

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South African football supremo, Steven Pienaar, has lent his voice to Amnesty International’s ‘Football Welcomes’ initiative that celebrates the contribution of refugee players in the development of the beautiful game. The initiative fits into a wider campaign to push back xenophobia and in particular hate against immigrants that are sorting refugee in the West.

Steven Pienaar and Gavin Hunt on the occasion of Pienaar joining Wits in 2017.

Coming from South Africa and from a community that faced repression during the apartheid era, Pienaar has a natural affinity to the Football Welcomes campaign. He reflects this in his owns words: “I was born in apartheid South Africa and I know how sport, including football, can help to bring people together and break down barriers.”

The former captain of South Africa’s national team recently retired from football after an illustrous 18 years career that saw him conquer the world stage. He’s played for Ajax Amsterdam, Borussia Dortmund, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland. He; alongside names like Lucas Radebe, Benni McCarthy, Phil Masinga and Aaron Mokoena; is considered one of South Africa’s most successful footballing exports.

Pienaar’s voice comes alongside that of players like Valon Behrami, Switzerland midfielder who  also played for Watford. In a moving interview Behrami speaks about how football played a crucial role in helping his family build a new life after fleeing the horrors of ethnic tensions in Kosovo in 1990. He appeals to others to help those fleeing crises conflict around the world today.

Football Welcomes’ 2018 edition occurred this weekend with sixty football clubs taking part. More than half of the UK’s Premier League football clubs – including Arsenal, Everton, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Leicester City – are took part. They are  joined by clubs from the FA Women’s Super League, English Football League and Scottish Premiership, as well as non-league and grassroots teams across the country.

Footballers Mario Vrančić, Anita Asante and Steven Pienaar have join celebrity football fans Keira Knightley, Dame Judi Dench, Kaiser Chiefs, Stephen Fry, Patrick Stewart, Ken Loach, Jordan Stephens and Juliet Stevenson in backing the initiative.

Amnesty International said “By putting on events and activities for refugees and people seeking asylum living nearby – from offering free tickets and putting on a match or tournament, to arranging a player visit or a stadium tour – football clubs are saying loud and clear that refugees are welcome in the UK.

“Footballers with a refugee background have been making their mark on the beautiful game for decades. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, Chelsea’s Victor Moses, Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Manchester City Women’s Nadia Nadim are among those currently playing in the UK. They follow in the footsteps of a group of Spanish Civil War child refugees who sailed from Bilbao to safety in Southampton over 80 years ago, and went on to play for the Saints as well as Wolves, Coventry, Brentford, Cambridge United, Colchester United and Norwich City in the 1940s and 50s.”

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