Football unites – but one had to go12 March 2010

The Austrian FARE partner FairPlay is supporting the www.fussballverbindet.org campaign against the deportation of a young footballer and his family.

Bernard plays football. He is nine years old. Bernard is good, the most talented player ever to come out of his village, his coach says. He is popular among his teammates, his fellow pupils, their parents and his teachers. Bernard is even supposed to go to the State Football Academy at Wiener Neustadt this summer. Supposed to, because Bernard was deported at the end of February.

Bernard is the son of Kosovan parents. He, his parents and two siblings are very much part of their community. The family have lived in Austria for several years. they all speak good German and have found a new home in their village. But in just five days all that changed. The family have been taken into custody pending deportation, transferred to Vienna and then deported to Kosovo.

Bernard's team-mates and coach, his fellow pupils and teachers, friends and acquaintances refuse to accept it. They have launched a petition against the current deportation practice of the Ministry of the Interior and for the implementation of a humanitarian stay – not only in the case of Bernard and his family.

The campaign has received prominent backing from Helge Payer (Rapid Vienna), Sebastian Martinez (First Vienna Football Club), György Garics (Atalanta Bergamo) and Ivica Vastic (former Austria international and author of the book Gemeinsam gewinnen wir. Fußball verbindet [Together we win. Football Unites].

Integration through sport – just empty words?
Bernard is part of a football team and a club and thus part of the social fabric of his village. His playing football and his talent are certainly not the only reasons why he and his family have become an indispensible part of the local community, but they have played a role. He is an example of how integration through sport, a concept referred to in the current government programme for promoting social coexistence, actually works. The actions of the Ministry of the Interior are therefore all the more disconcerting.

One of the people behind the website www.fussballverbindet.org and father of one of Bernard's team-mates puts it in a nutshell:
Newer and tougher laws are being brought in all the time, supposedly to deal with the criminal elements among asylum seekers. But the laws are being applied against 9-year-old boys who are fully integrated.
The impact of the deportation is being felt by the whole village. The mother of a schoolmate describes what her child told her the day after it happened:
He said 'Mum, Bernard has been locked up and on Monday a school psychologist is coming to see us.' What for? To tell the children everything's not so bad after all? It is bad, very bad even. His textbooks, exercise books, painting things, gym bag, school case, slippers, everything's in its place as always — only Bernard, who these things belong to, isn't there!

How can I help?

Anyone wishing to help Bernard and his family can sign the petition at www.fussballverbindet.org.

You can also do the following
• Sign the petition and tell your friends and acquaintances about it
• Put a report about the campaign on your website
• Include a report in your newsletters/magazines/fanzines/brochures/match programmes
• Send the information to others via e-mail
• Contact the campaign organisers and declare your support
• Tell your local football club and show solidarity with Bernard
• Write letters of support to the campaign organisers
• Inform your local press about the campaign