Pro footballer loses right to asylum21 April 2005

Tranmere Rovers' African-born asylum-seeker, Calvin Zola, has lost his right to stay in the UK. The 20 year old forward came to Britain as a boy with his mother and was taken on by Newcastle United before moving to Tranmere.

Now, UK sports minister, Richard Caborn MP says that he will help to keep him playing in the UK. The minister is offering to try to arrange a quick and secure procedure for Zola to return to his native Democratic Republic of Congo to submit a new application for a UK visa.

The initiative offers hope of a swift resolution to an issue that could keep the 20-year-old striker out of football for months – even years – if he attempts to mount a legal appeal while remaining in this country.

Safety fears
But Zola will first want assurances about the level of security he will be offered in making even the briefest visit to the trouble-torn African state. Zola has been reluctant to return to the Congo – from where he fled with his mother six years ago during a civil war – because he fears his life will be at risk. Zola said last night, “It's something worth thinking about but we will have to look at the safety in the whole package.”

Immigration Minister Des Browne declined to intervene, saying Zola's fears about his security in the Congo were “unfounded”.

Sports Minister Caborn, on a pre-election visit to Tranmere's Raby training ground with Labour parliamentary candidate for Wirral South Ben Chapman, held talks with Rogers, manager Brian Little and Zola himself.

The minister said, “We can make representations to the Congolese and see if we can get assurances about Calvin's personal safety when he returns to the Congo. Then we can make representations to the Foreign Office and see what they can do.”

“With a little bit of good will on both sides we can comply with the immigration rules. Calvin can make the application from the country of origin and he can be back here playing football again for Tranmere as soon as possible.”