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September 21, 2015
September 21, 2015

Jogo Bonito in Zagreb

Author: Alja Gudzevic Translator: Alja Gudzevic
Category: Borders
This article is also available in: eleshrru
Jogo Bonito in Zagreb

In the omnipresent topic of escaping the war in the Middle East, in the European public discourse one could not read or hear a lot about Croatia. Although Croatia is a member of the European Union, it is not a part of the Schengen area and the refugees mostly pass it by when trying to reach destinations in North Europe. But when it comes to refugees and escaping the war, this topic did not evade Croatia because its inhabitants had been leaving the country since the start of the war in the former Yugoslavia in the nineties, searching for better economic, political and social conditions. This is one of the reasons why in Croatia one could expect great sensitivity from its inhabitants and a response to the calls for solidarity which, as we saw, European countries often deprive the people of, by building walls, using armed attacks, incarcerating people in refugee camps (prisons) and similar “witticisms” by its pro-fascist leaning governments and many of its xenophobic and racist proponents.

The number of people who arrived to Europe through the Mediterranean exceeded 300.000 from which 200.000 of them arrived in Greece and the remaining 100.000 did it by other routes reaching the south of Italy. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, notified that merely from the beginning of 2015, the number of fatalities resulting in trying to reach Europe went up to the enormous and deprecatory number of 2.500. Last year that disturbing number was even larger with a 1000 more people who disappeared or died on the way.

After Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, the majority of people escaping wars, misery and penury bypass Croatia and decide to take the route through Hungary and Austria in order to, most often, reach Germany, but also Sweden, Denmark and Norway. But still, considering the number of people who applied for asylum or subsidiary protection in countries which are members of the European Union, UNHCR’s statistics shows that the number of people that did so in Croatia is only a modest one showing 4.857. The statistics are covering the time period of 11 years, starting from 2004 till May 2015. From the above-mentioned number of asylum or subsidiary protection seekers, only 165 have been approved. The shelter for people escaping from war and misery in the affected countries should be provided by countries living in peace, but concurrently it is well-known how weak and slow the bureaucratic effectiveness is in solving this burning issue. In particular, the waiting time in Croatia is usually from six months to a year.


However, the Balkan route on their way to safe life kept some refugees here, in Zagreb. The prevailing animosity toward the asylum seekers did not prevent a few people from Zagreb to provide direct help with their integration. And with the hand of solidarity they passed them a ball, a football one, so that everything is marked as “fair play”, both on a sports and on a human level.

Good few supporters of the “FC Zagreb” came up with an idea to organise something which would help the social integration of the refugees. As an idea it already started in 2000 when they founded an association “White Angels”. Unsatisfied with the situation and the lack of transparency in the FC Zagreb’s former administration work, they did not want to participate in its obvious destruction. The idea to found a new club and a new association was already present among the supporters. United in a struggle against negative occurrences in modern football and representing zero tolerance for any kind of social discrimination, that club of supporters started promoting solidarity, tolerance, antifascism and social integration of the marginalised social communities. The Centre for Peace Studies and the Antifascist Network of Zagreb have introduced FC Zagreb supporters with the asylum seekers in our city. The engagement of “White Angels” for the integration of the asylum seekers in the society resulted with an organisation of 5-a-side football tournaments in Italy and Germany and the initiative came back home with a tournament in Zagreb symbolically named “All Colours Are Beautiful”. Thereat were organised different actions, activist forums and workshops.

With a steady desire to form their own club, a club which will belong directly to its members, a working group was assembled and started to scrutinise statutes and conditions of the Croatian Football Federation. Wanting to promote sport and antifascist values and being against negative occurrences of representation, they founded a club “Zagreb 041″. The club is horizontally organised, implementing the model one member – one vote. The direct democracy means that the assembly is the main body and that all of the members of the club are members of the assembly which furthermore means that there are no functions such as president, secretary or club administration. The working groups are being made if the members of the club consider that there is a need for one. So far there are working groups for logistics, administration and finances, marketing and promotion, grandstand and the playing team. The members of the club are both women and men and at the moment there are about a hundred club members. The football ground is rented from a lower league team in Dugave, an urban settlement in Zagreb, and the rent is paid from donations, membership fees and the aid they get from people who support the main idea and have decided to help the club.


Besides the players from Croatia, the members and the players come from Senegal, Nigeria and Uganda, people who have decided to ask for asylum in Croatia. Due to the fact that the majority of them felt an emptiness regarding their everyday life, described mostly in the phrase “I’m just eating and sleeping”, the idea for “Zagreb 041″ started. Besides being a psychophysical activity and fulfilling free time for all of its members and sympathisers, it has become a sort of an expansion of the social network for the asylum seekers in the togetherness with people they meet there and with whom they spend their time. For registering the asylum seekers, people in the club say that they need to wait for the confirmation that the foreign citizens are not members of the Football Federations in their countries of origin, but fortunately the registration of the players should be successfully completed soon and they should start playing the official matches.

As it is well-known, football is the sport that gets the most media coverage and at the same time it is a great example for initiating and effectuating this kind of messages and stories. Although, on the one hand, the nationalist and racist connotations in the world of football often overshadow the game, and on the other, initiatives such as this one for the club “Zagreb 041″ present an alternative both in sport and in social context. The fate of the trainer of this club, Celestine Olise, who was a children’s trainer in one of Zagreb’s football clubs, was quite similar. The parents soon recognised, not only a great sports, but also a humanistic model of education for their kids. They wanted to promote multicultural values and offer an intercultural experience so they decided to keep Celestine as a trainer for their children. Now he has been the trainer of the “Zagreb 041″ team for three months and the team is competing in the third football league in Zagreb. The members and sympathisers of this club are undoubtedly promoting the message of football as a sport of solidarity, of healthy competition and of respecting others. By bringing back football there where they claim it belongs – in a local community, they are not just transforming the latter but also promoting the idea of good sports, of social integration and equality of its members and in this way they confirm Albert Camus’s quote from the 1950s saying that everything he knows about morality and the human obligations he owes to football.


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Jogo Bonito in Zagreb by Alja Gudzevic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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