World Cup: A team of Haitian refugees in Brazil rises in ranks

World Today

World Cup: A team of Haitian refugees in Brazil rises in ranks

A team of Haitian refugees and at-risk Brazilian youths rose to fame in Brazil. After one-year of professional training, the now famous Black Pearls team has made it to the second division of Rio football. CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco reports.

The Black Pearls is a football club that started as a refugee project. It is run by the Brazilian NGO, Viva Rio. It was founded after the devastating 2010 Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.

The Black Pearls includes two academies, one in Haiti for children and one in Rio that offers training and education for mostly-Haitian refugees and at-risk Brazilians. The team that comes out of the latter, a professional academy has moved from third division to second in the Rio de Janeiro league. So far, it has lost only one game.

According to Brazil’s football confederation, clubs cannot have more than five foreign players, but it has made an exception for these refugees. They are all now counted as if they were Brazilian athletes.

“I tell them it is a privilege to be here in the land of football but it is not just them learning from us; we are also learning from them because they have such great potential,” Black Pearls coach, Wesley Assis said.

Despite the rigorous training, the club has attracted another group of refugees who are fleeing into Brazil. Most recently, Juan Andres Rodrigues, a Venezuelan, was added to the team.

“The situation in my country is not good, but I was lucky to join the Black Pearls, a top team. It is a great opportunity to grow in the sport,” he said.

Situations, where refugee players will represent their own countries in international competition might arise. These young athletes, however, did not hesitate when asked which country they wanted to see winning this year’s world cup: Brazil.

Winning the World Cup might be the stuff of legends, but these footballers’ next goal is to reach Brazil’s first division.