Football breaks down barriers to Roma inclusion in the Czech Republic16 December 2016

AgrassrootsinitiativeisusingfootballtostrengthenapositiveidentityamongmarginalisedRomacommunitiesintheCzechRepublic,whileprovidingaspaceforchildrentohaveaccesstosportandincreaseopportunitiesforintegration.

Based in Ústí nad Labem, North West Czech Republic, Mongaguá was formed in 2015 by the Romani player Lukáš Pulko, and backed by the professional futsal Brazilian player Rodrigo Taverna, to address long-lasting prejudices after the city became known in 1999 for a wall that separated Roma communities from the rest of the population.

“Drugs and ghettos are two major issues that affect Roma communities in Ústí and Labem” said Lukáš.

“Roma people still live in ghettos and they have never been fully integrated. It is difficult to break out of poverty in these circumstances,

“The access to drugs is easy so we needed to something about it and make sure children didn’t follow this path. I am fighting it through football. I want kids to be busy” he added.

Aimed at eliminating discrimination based on ethnicity and social disadvantage, the team is currently training 10 girls and 40 boys living in the quarter of Mojžíř and its surroundings.

While the team is mostly formed of Romani children, non-Roma also attend the trainings.

“Because we meet in areas such as Krásné Březno and Neštěmice, 90% of the team is Romani, but we are open to all” Lukáš added.

Challenging anti-Roma discrimination
Discrimination against Roma has been a complex challenge to address in the Czech Republic. A 2015 Amnesty Internacional report highlighting the unequal treatment faced by Roma communities in the country revealed that Romani children are segregated in mainstream education in Roma-only separate classes, buildings and schools and even placed in schools for pupils with “mild mental disabilities”.

Lukáš, who currently plays for FC Děčín, a team of Romani players that has been fighting anti-Roma prejudice, has witnessed the many ways in which anti-Roma discrimination plays.

In 2014, five teams in the Czech Republic’s lowest official football league failed to show for matches against FC Děčín, stirring up painful feelings among Roma, who claimed the stigma and prejudice extended to sports.

Earlier this year, the Czech football club Bohemians Praha 1905 had to cancel the screening of a documentary about the team after receiving threats of violence from football fans.

“With Mongaguá and the help of the ‘Say no to racism‘ campaign we want to show children and young people that sport is the right place for them, a place where they are welcome irrespective of their age, religious beliefs, sex, or skin color.”

Since its start, the team has engaged in tournaments across the country, promoting their work and helping take down the barriers to Roma inclusion.

In October, the team participated in Barflies United XIV Love Football, Hate Racism tournament, an anti-racist initiative aimed at addressing the stereotypes and prejudices around Roma, which also comprised the screening of FC Děčín’s documentary and a party.

Lukáš’ long-term goals for the team is turn it into a nation-wide movement.

“The team has been growing and we would like to see Mongaguá become a nation-wide initiative, through which children can meet at the pitches close to their homes,” he explained.

Supplied by Mongaguá / Lukáš Pulko Starší

Supplied by Mongaguá/Lukáš Pulko Starší