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Refugee cricketers make French and EU history

A group of cricket-mad refugees have made history by helping to form the first cricket league in northern France, by winning their first full game and by being named European Citizens of 2017 for their efforts to integrate.

21 June 2017
Cricket-mad refugees set up demo games at Saint-Omer cathedral
By Emily Commander

The Saint-Omer Cricket Club Stars are mostly from Pakistan and Afghanistan and the club was founded after the refugees were spotted playing in a park in the town where many had been living in the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp.

Now, a few months on, they have helped to found the new Hauts-de-France cricket league and won their first full game, beating Dynamo de Lille.

Player Javed Ahmazay, 30, originally from Afghanistan, said it has had one important effect: “The way people view us has changed: we are no longer refugees but sportsmen.”

They now also have a proper ground to play games on after they began life in the Glacis public park in Saint-Omer, where a group gathered regularly to play an improvised version of cricket using tennis balls reinforced with sellotape.

Businessman Christophe Silvie, 37, of Landron Ambulances, spotted them enjoying impromptu games while he was out jogging in August 2016 and, being an anglophile, spoke to them about starting a cricket team. Although they were managing to have a knock-around, as refugees they had no possessions, let alone any playing kit but now the players’ talent and Mr Silvie’s generosity and determination are starting to pay off.

Mr Silvie said: “The team dynamic is fantastic. The players train hard, they have improved their French, and they have visited schools to introduce young children to the sport.”

In April, the club – called Soccs for short – played their first match in the French Cup against France Gymkhana, Gonesse. They lost, by 252 runs to 129, but it was an impressive effort against a second-division side which has been playing for years and has won France’s cricket Superleague in the past.

Now they have two teams in the new Hauts-de-France league and while the firsts won their first game against Dyn­a­mo Lille the seconds lost to Valenciennes.

The Soccs players celebrate their first win

They have also been recognised at European level and were awarded the European Citizen’s Prize for their work to improve international understanding.

There has been an improvement in the players’ lives. Mr Ahmazay said: “We are proud to wear the Soccs strip.”

All their hard work could still fall through, however, if the club does not receive the financial and practical support it needs to keep going. Even something as simple as transport is difficult and expensive for players with no access to cars but they have now found a ground that they can prepare for games.

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