Hestia FC, Greece’s first football team comprised of women refugees and migrants, won a European cup, only three months after its formation.
Katerina Salta, Sport for Protection program manager of the International Olympic Truce Centre which warmly embraced the idea of the team, told the story about Hestia FC during training in an Athens sport field.
She said the team has support of the Greek state, local NGOs and international partners, and its 28 players hail from 12 countries.
“Hestia FC started only in March, only three months ago, but the impact is more than obvious. The players already express how empowered they feel, how their life changed. Many of them have arrived recently in Athens and many of them travel alone, so they didn’t have any friends any people to interact,” Salta told Xinhua.
Hestia means hearth in Greek. In ancient Greece Hestia was the goddess of home and family life.
This is what the team’s players lost in their home countries, and what they are seeking while trying to rebuild their lives in their new home in Europe.
Football is used as a tool for empowerment and protection of these vulnerable women and social inclusion, Salta explained. The women coming from countries such as Syria, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea and Somalia have rediscovered themselves, their strength and regained hope for their dream life.
“We are already a family. We support each other inside and outside of the pitch. They express in a very strong way how free they feel inside the football pitch and how through football they remember their goals in life and they get empowered to try for their lives in general,” she explained.
The start of the journey until they reach the pitch was not easy. “There have been many challenges, not necessarily through their families, but even themselves, because of the different culture. They were hesitating to come in such a program. They didn’t have experience in football before, so they felt that this would be a problem,” Salta said.
According to Salta, support from the players’ family is very impressive, considering the different culture backgrounds.
“(It) is kind of surprising for their culture…We have even husbands who babysit their children for the ladies, for the women to come to the trainings. It was a really happy moment when the husbands came to watch their women, their wives in a friendly match,” she said.
Hestia FC competes in the Global Goals World Cup (GGWCup), an activist 5v5 football tournament for women, which was launched by an international network of organizations supported by the EU and the UN among others.
The idea is to promote the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals through sport, using football to achieve gender equality, unity, peace.
Hestia FC participated along other 24 teams in the European GGWCup and brought the trophy back from Copenhagen in May.
The refugee and migrant players could not travel to Copenhagen due to lack of the necessary travel documents and were replaced by volunteers who are supporting their efforts, Salta noted, mentioning it is not against the rules of the tournament.
The squad qualified for the GGWCup finals which will be held in New York in late September to coincide with the UN’s General Assembly session.
The team will also be among the 3,500 female footballers convening in Lyon France who during the FIFA Women’s World Cup will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest number of women players that have ever played football together in a single match which will take place nonstop over the course of five days from this Friday June 27 to July 1.
The idea is that with a ball the women players can change the world.
Fatima, 20, from Afghanistan, who reached Greece three years ago with her family, feels that she has already made great leaps.
She has been loving football even before joining the team. She played with her son Ahmed inside the camp. Her husband is also one of her warmest supporters.
“He didn’t say anything (at first) and when I played sometimes in Hellinikon camp with my son or my friend he told me ‘You came in Europe, and you play football, you do everything here’,” she recalled.
Fatima loves being a member of a team which has fun and successes. She is dreaming of more trophies in life.
“I have many dreams. I want to continue my education,” she told Xinhua.
Leila, 35, also from Afghanistan, feels that they have already climbed a mountain and they can do anything from now on.
“I am three months in this team. I am really happy and I enjoy this team and I feel I am alive again. I feel happiness, I will try to continue in this team and I see light in my future, I have climbed a mountain,” she said.
She would like to stay in Greece with her family and make a fresh start here, and enjoy life again playing football also with her son who is a goalkeeper in another refugee football team.