Migrant Athletes


Migrant Athletes and Footballers in Britain

Deutsche Welle Radio, Cologne English Programs, Cool

April 2000

Featuring:

Birhan Dagne, 21, cross country runner from Ethiopia (world list rank 5, 1996)

Nikam Uka, 19, football-player from Kosovo ex FC Partisan Tirana

Ahmed Brkowitz, 25 football-player from Croatia,

Josephus Thomas, 26, sprinter originally from Sierra Leone, rank 2 European Championship 2000

Duration 5’57’ (without music) [up to 7’07 with music]

IN: Britain is perhaps

OUT: this is Daniel Zylbersztajn for Cool

Copy Righted Material:

Shlomo Gronich and the Sheba Choir: Motherless Child, ACUM 15615, Israel, 1995

All special sound effects are taken from: NOISES OFF! EMORIO EMPRCD 813

INTRO

Maybe you are one of the young people around the world who is dreaming of a sports career in countries like for example America, France, Germany or Britain. You are quite successful in your sport and somehow you feel your chances of building on your talents seem limited, because you are not being promoted enough or do not have enough sport facilities in the country in which you live. Abroad, it seems, are unlimited possibilities in terms of access to facilities and equipment and one can actually make a living of sport, rather than to live and also do sport. Daniel Zylbersztajn talked to some migrant athletes and footballers who have moved to Great Britain, to see how it is for them in Britain and what advise they had for you.

Britain is perhaps an exception in terms of integration of athletes and sports people who are originally from elsewhere. Countries like France and America especially have been known to openly recruit young successful athletes and footballers from overseas, and integrate them into their national teams. When I started looking in Britain however, I found a very different story. Most people here came on their own devices, be it as refugees because of terrible circumstances back home, or simply to study.

Brihan Dagne is a cross runner from Ethiopia. Four years ago, when she was 17 she decided to seek asylum, on a stay in Britain with the Ethiopian running team.

“My name is Birhan Dagne, I run now for Great Britain, because I have Problem in Ethiopia! My aim is to run for Great Britain Olympic. I came to Britain straight, and no back home! It was big problem for my life!”

This problem was not sport related but, because her older brother was a person the new government of Ethiopia considered hostile for political reasons. Similarly Niam Uka had to leave his native region Kosovo, one and a half years ago, due to the terrible things that were happening at the time to the Kosovo Albanians. His life too would have been, at risk had he stayed there. Niam now plays soccer as a mid-field player at the London, third league football club Leyton Oriental.

“My name is Niam Uka, I am from Ex-Yugoslavia, Kosovo. I am nineteen years old. I played with Partisan Tirana, and after the trouble comes in Yugoslavia, I decided immigration and I find myself here.

So was it easy for Niam to integrated into a new country, and football team?

“You have to learn everything new, you know, to adopt with game, with English people. Everything was strange for me. Sometimes I didn’t understand them. I got to do again, ask again, yes! But now it gets better!”

Ahmed Berkowitz from Croatia who also plays for Leyton Orient since about a year, and who came to Britain because his wife is English, was more critical:

First time when I have come, probably I was competition for other players, because I come from foreign country. These guys here from England they don’t like it, cause you gonna take him the place, in a team. I know friends, I have lots of friends here, We go out sometimes have a drink. Last ten games we have been doing very good, me I scored 10 goals, so they are really pleased with me.

[noise of football crowd]

Well we can hear Ahmed’s fans are quite happy about him.

But success does not come that easy in a new country. Birhan Dagne says that it was difficult to adapt to the differences in training:

In Ethiopia, when you have race in the world cross or world track, or like Olympic, we are training the same, top runner or small runner there is no difference and here you are training alone!

[sound of running]

And off she went. Ahmed Berkowitz, however sees good and bad sides about football for him and his new training conditions:

In Croatia I always used to have two trainings a day, but here in England you only have in the morning training! But the hardest football is here! In Croatia you can stop at a ball, you have more time, but here you have to play very simple and very quick! I see my future in Britain, cause I am used now to British football.

Brihan Dagne had something else to say, you should know about training in Britain, as if you wouldn’t know yet:

The weather as well. All the time in Europe, the whole day it’s raining and very cold, you can not go training that time!

But it are precisely the weather in Britain that seem to please Josephus Thomas. Josephus is a sprinter originally from Sierra Leone, who made it second in the Birmingham European Championships.

It’s very difficult to train in Africa, because you don’t have all the facilities. The weather is very hot! All the hard work which is supposed to be in a bit cooler weather. Successful athletes or sports people from Sierra Leone are all overseas training.

Although there has been a bloody war in Sierra Leone, Josephus came in fact to Britain to study, whilst also building on his sport talents.

So what kind of advice do these sports people have for those of you, who are still dreaming of making it overseas? Ahmed Berkowitz:

I give advise that when they come, they must be calm, relaxed. Cause I was, when I first came, I was a little bit nervous. If you don’t work hard you not gonna play alright!”

Josephus Thomas the sprinter, reiterates that you can in deed make it, whilst remaining where you are, but there are some basic rules you have to follow:

“Never give up. Very disciplined, train very, very hard, I was running pretty fast in Sierra Leone at the age of 17.

Whilst all the athletes appreciate the improved facilities in Britain, eventually making in a new and unfamiliar country , means that you also have to tackle something that can be quite a big problem: homesickness. Whilst Josephus assured me that he only missed his parents sometimes, Niam told me that one day he wanted to return home to help building up Kosovo. And Brihane warned:

“When you left you miss own country, family, everything!”

So if you have to leave due to political problems, due to family reasons, to study, or for whatever reason, remember that, although if you keep up the hard work, your sport skills are staying with you, , the geographical and cultural differences, and the longing for those who used to be around you, are real issues, you will have to get a grip on, once you are far away from home.

This feature was broadcasted in 2001 on Deutsche Welle
transcript below – all rights reserved!

From London, this is Daniel Zylbersztajn for Cool

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