Football Camp in Lebanon
Everyone is equal in sport

At the Soccercamp Lebanon, young footballers learn fairness and team spirit.
At the Soccercamp Lebanon, young footballers learn fairness and team spirit. | © Mwafak Maklad

Learning about what can be achieved through dedication, fun and tolerance: The Goethe-Institut Beirut and the Federal Foreign Office are relying on the mediating power of football and inviting refugee Syrian and Palestinian children as well as local Lebanese girls and boys to the Soccer Camp Lebanon. Matthias Frickel and Henning Hesse visited the training camps.

At first sight, the Soccer Camp Lebanon is a football camp like any other. Youngsters between 6 and 16 years of age meet for a week on football pitches in Beirut, Tripoli or in the Beqaa Valley, train together and sing songs. We accompanied the youthful kickers for ten days.

On the way to the game. On the way to the game. | © Mwafak Maklad On the first day, we already notice that something is different here. The eyes of the younger participants in particular shine with happiness when they are given their new football shoes, trousers and jerseys with the Goethe-Institut emblem on them. Excited to enter a big green football pitch for the first time in their lives and set out running, they cannot seem to wait to find the right socks, put on and lace their shoes.

On the initiative of the Goethe-Institut Lebanon and in cooperation with the David Nakhid Football Academy, the 150 children and teenagers will train every day for six weeks. They are Syrian and Iraqi refugees, Palestinians who live here as refugees in the third generation, and Lebanese.

On the football field. On the football field. | © Mwafak Maklad The place where worlds meet

The Soccer Camp in Lebanon is a place where worlds meet. The Syrian girls from the Beqaa Valley usually play football with the neighbourhood boys on a stubble field behind the self-made refugee huts. Now they are playing in Parc Beirut, where otherwise only Lebanese boys are trained whose parents can make the membership fee for a club.

Looking more closely at the stories of these children and youths, one begins to understand why such a football camp is so valuable. Lebanon is one of the focal points of the current refugee movements. Every fourth inhabitant of the small Mediterranean country is a refugee. Syrian and Iraqis as well as Palestinians who left their homeland decades ago live together among the Lebanese in a very restricted area.

Dreams for the future

On location, we are always surprised at what the children and teenagers reveal to us when we get closer to them. Football means something different for each of them: an escape from the difficulties of everyday life or the hope for a better future.

“Football is my only chance,” says Youssef, whose grandfather had to leave Palestine in 1948. The 16-year-old is aware that as a Palestinian in Lebanon, he can never officially be a doctor, lawyer or taxi driver.

Football is a chance for young Palestinians. Football is a chance for young Palestinians. | © Mwafak Maklad Rim, a 15-year-old, has lived in a refugee hut in the Beqaa Valley since her family left Syria four years ago. “When I play football, I forget about what we’ve seen on the run,” she says. Two years ago she was allowed to go to a Lebanese school and is getting a little closer to her dream of one day returning to Syria to become a doctor.

The 15-year-old Lebanese Rola tells us how she came to a sport field and saw a group of girls playing football there and asked if she could play, too. The fact that she is now the only Lebanese girl to train with a team of Palestinian girls is normality for her, but more than unusual for her environment. Only one Syrian girl attends Rola’s school, while the school of Youssef’s younger brother in Shatila is attended exclusively by

A refreshment after the game. A refreshment after the game. | © Mwafak Maklad Football is only a game, but in the Soccer Camp Lebanon, this game offers hope – hope that something might change in the strictly divided society in Lebanon. Will Youssef ever become a professional footballer in spite of the fact that at home in the Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp there is not enough money for him to train regularly? Will Rim from Homs actually become a doctor in Syria? And what does the Lebanese Rola think of when she kicks with young people in Beirut, whose lives, unlike her own, are characterized by flight and expulsion?

We do not know whether the hopes of the young athletes will be fulfilled. But after ten days in Lebanon, we know whose dreams need to be made possible.

Fun is very important for the participants. Fun is very important for the participants. | © Mwafak Maklad

Matthias Frickel runs the Deutsche Welle TV show Kick Off! - The Thinking Fan’s Football Show. He has received the German-Polish Journalist Award and the Guirlande d’Honneur for his documentary at the FICTS sport film festival in Milan. Together with his colleague Henning Hesse, who recently won the television prize of the Association of Sport Journalists for Your Final, he has now produced a documentary about the Soccer Camp.The 50-minute documentary was created in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut. On 26 December 2016, the film will be presented in English, German, Arabic and Spanish on the website of Deutsche Welle