Recovery one abandoned field and build a football team from scratch with refugees and asylum seekers. Concrete actions for everyone, against all discrimination. free Nantes is a non-profit, independent, secular, apolitical and community-based amateur sports association Volunteeringborn in Rome in 2007. Among the activities proposed by the association: women’s and men’s soccer, touch rugby, urban hiking and trekking, teaching of Italian language through it sport. We talked about it with Alberto Urbinoco-founder and president.
How was the association born?
It was born spontaneously in 2007 from a group of kids who attended stadiums and who found fertile ground there in which racist instincts and discrimination were cultivated. It was also a period in which the theme of the landings began to be very frequent in the news. There was precisely this desire to use the same instrument, football, but in a different way and therefore as an instrument of brotherhood and union. So one of the first teams in Italy made up of migrant, refugee and asylum seekers was set up. From the following year, the request to take part in a real championship came from the participants. The soccer team is mixed and then there is also a women’s team, which has been training regularly for a couple of years, even if it doesn’t currently participate in any codified tournament.
‘True championship’, that is?
We have always played official football competitions. For a reality like ours it was very easy to think of making friendlies or matches between migrants and sensitive associations, instead we have chosen to play the federal championships. This year is our 13th. The other significant element is that of having taken over an abandoned field.
Let’s talk about this: what was the path you followed?
It was a sports field that had been abandoned for 15 years in the Pietralata area of Rome (east quadrant of the city, ndr). We brought it back to life and now it is one of the engines of the neighborhood, one of the places where the community meets and where you can access free activities open to all, migrants and non-migrants.
Isn’t there any stake, of economic condition for example?
We tend not to create any sort of categorization. We like the idea that it is open to everyone, regardless of the ISEE. It is clear that, numbers in hand, it is a service that is mainly accepted by people who are not in an idyllic situation from a social and economic point of view. We’re not just talking about sporting activities, there’s also homework help from a retired teacher, together with one or two assistants. After the hour of study they go to the field, where they can decide whether to do athletics or football. In fact, two hours are available to everyone. Then we have a community living room, supervised by a psychologist, who intercepts sometimes very complicated family situations.
How were you received by the citizens of the area?
The neighborhood is very receptive from this point of view. It is a historic neighborhood with strong values. There was no problem.
What about politics?
I honestly didn’t hope for this question (laughs, ndr). Our field is a public space and we are very keen on keeping it public. Who does it belong to? All’ATER, therefore the company that deals with public construction, employed by the Lazio Region. Unfortunately, from 2010 to today, I have not been able to open an effective discussion table to overcome some urban planning problems that we have inherited. Many words, never translated into concrete deeds, despite the fact that many regional representatives have come during the various councils. I hope something can move, we will try to open a dialogue with the new regional administration, given that the previous one has left us like this.
Is there a particular story that you carry in your heart?
It’s a tough question, I’ve been through a lot. I am reminded of the story of a fantastic boy who came from Gambia and was the captain of the football team. With great humility he managed to find work with a permanent contract and then he had the courage to quit that job, after having been here for about 10 years, because in the meantime, with the remittances he had sent to his family of origin, they managed to buy a piece of land and develop a business there. He returned to his country to be an entrepreneur there and left what, for so many, was a mirage. He gave up all this to return to his country. This demonstrates the fact that there isn’t all this desire to stay here in Italy at all costs. When there are conditions to feel good in one’s own country, people prefer it.
What if he were to think about today instead?
There are stories to tell every day. For example, recently some parents, chatting off the pitch, told me: ‘Our daughter has improved a lot at school, thanks to your after-school sports, she’s doing better, she wants to read, to study again’. Well, when everything you’ve thought about – obtaining funding, with all the annoyance associated with it – becomes concrete and tangible, it’s a source of pride.
Is it a job for you now?
It has become. After so many years of nothing, now I have a ‘salary’, let’s say a refreshment here. I worked as a computer scientist for many years but then my job had become less stimulating, so at a certain point I accepted a slide from my company and I took this period to throw myself headlong into Liberi Nantes, trying to make it a ‘social enterprise. This journey is now well advanced. The association can draw from various sources of financing, even very different from each other: tenders, private investors, foundations, companies. This allows us to make almost all of our activities free for everyone.
What’s your next goal?
We have involved the various actors active in the neighborhood to give educational opportunities to children outside of school. We do a period of training inspired by the ‘pedagogy of desire’, with art, with education. Let’s start from that to feed other positive processes, it is the ‘project of the educating community of Pietralata’. On our social networks, day after day, we update those who follow us on all the activities. The nice thing about this year is that there is a military barracks in Pietralata and, when they heard about Liberi Nantes, they came to meet us. So this year’s team is made up of migrant boys and 4-5 soldiers: worlds that seem so distant, however, manage to stay together and value each other.
“In honor of the victims of the #shipwreck of Cutro. Because we are part of the same story of a single destiny in which every life concerns us”, reads a post published two weeks ago by Liberi Nantes on Instagram, accompanying some shots with the boys who wore the black armband as a sign of mourning.