African football team lacks financial backer
A unique project to integrate asylum seekers into Swiss society is under threat unless it can find a sponsorship deal.
The African Football Club Zurich has climbed to the third division of the regional league despite limited financial resources.
The squad of around 20 players is the only one of its kind in Europe registered with a football federation.
It is made up solely of African players living in Zurich and the surrounding areas.
While some of the players are permanent residents of Switzerland, others are still waiting for their asylum applications to be handled.
The chairman and co-founder of the club, Sam Reden, says morale within the team is low, even though the club has had a successful couple of years - climbing from the fifth to the third division.
“The players see that all the other clubs in the league have sponsorship deals whereas our budget is practically zero,” he told swissinfo.
“What financial support we have comes from friends and club officials, and while we hope that we’ll find a backer, we cannot base our activities on that.”
Reden says that a minimum of around SFr80,000 is needed to keep the team on course for promotion to the second division next year.
It is not only limited financial resources that make planning an uphill struggle for the team officials.
The coaches also have a headache every time they pick a team.
Head coach and player, Samuel Opoku-Nti, says he can never be sure whether one of the team will have to leave the country because their asylum application has been turned down.
“It’s very difficult because sometimes a player doesn’t turn up to a match or suddenly misses a training session,” he told swissinfo.
“It’s only later you find out that he has been picked up by the police perhaps, or been returned to his country of origin.”
Reden believes the club provides a support network, as many of the team have been through the asylum process themselves.
“Of course it’s a blow to the club when a player has his asylum application turned down,” said the successful Nigerian-born businessman.
“But he is often buoyed up by the other players who train with him and help him laugh and perhaps stop him from being depressed.”
The club - the brainchild of Reden and four founding partners - was officially launched in July 2001.
It made history by becoming the first team composed entirely of African players to be registered with a European football federation.
Reden says the aim of the club has always been to fight against the stereotypical image many Swiss have of Africans.
“We want to fight against the impression that black people roam the streets, dealing in drugs and getting involved in crime,” he said.
“This is a way to show that our boys have skills and the idea is to bring them together and get them interested an involved in something.”
While Reden stresses the value the club puts on helping players integrate into Swiss society, the team is also a showcase for the footballing skills of many of the young players.
“It is important that this team exists,” said Opoku-Nti, a former player with the professional Swiss team Servette of Geneva.
“There are so many talented African players and we act as a springboard for them to show what they can do.”
“The hope is that perhaps some of them will be able to make it into the national league.”
swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton
The African Football Club Zurich was officially launched on July 21 2001, and entered the fifth division of the regional league in September of the same year.
It is the only African football club registered with a football federation in Europe.
The current squad numbers includes players from around 20 African countries.
Most players come from French- or English-speaking countries, but Portuguese and German are also spoken in the dug out.
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