24 | NOV 2017
ECO SWITCH
10 MAY | 2015
Øthers from Rosarno, Rosarno, Italy
KOA Bosco, the team against all odds
A fun moment with the KOA Bosco players sitting on the bench. Foto: Salvatore Colloridi.
The football side in Calabria that gave African refugees a chance
T

here’s a marginal border that you don’t realise you’re crossing when you speak to any of the players of KOA Bosco. Just like every other footballer in the world, they are eager to discuss preferred positions, what the manager told them before the game, recall that amazing goal or talk about the dressing room’s atmosphere and the jokes they crack to each other. And yet the real significance of KOA Bosco doesn’t lie in these kind of football stories, but in their very existence. The Knights of the Altar of Bosco are a football team that was born against all odds. [...]

Twitter: alehalle
Argentinian journalist and proud mom. International football. For El Gráfico magazine regularly writes From A to Z, Argentinian Fever and Discovering...

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[...] The players are all African refugees that survived the cross of the Mediterranean. And that faced violent episodes of racism. The place where KOA was born is Rosarno, in Calabria. There, in January 2010, took place a series of shameful events that set off after two Africans were shot with an air rifle while they were working as crop-pickers. 

The conflict escalated as thousands of other migrants protested in the streets, prompting a fierce reaction from the locals. Four days later, Rosarno was turn into a war zone, with wrecked cars, houses burning down and nearly 2,000 African migrants forced to leave the town to prevent a massacre. The complex that housed the refugees was demolished, the ultimate message that Rosarno didn’t want them back. 

Spiritual wounds might take years to heal, but a local priest, Roberto Meduri, decided to do the impossible – set up a football team of Africans. “It wasn’t easy, we really had to do it with a low-key, since the atmosphere was not perfect”, he explains to MUNDBØL. “They didn’t trust white people, and you could tell that they were right to feel that way, but since I prepared the first leaflets, things started to change. When the first ones arrived for a training session, and saw that there was no trick, then they told their friends and relatives, and the word began to spread”. A few months later, as much as 400 people had participated in the kickabouts in the backyard of the Catholic Church where Meduri preaches. 

“About a year ago, two friends called me and told me about this project. It wasn’t easy to believe them, but when I realised it was truth, I came here for the trials. There were about 40 of us and all wanted to be part of this. The best part of this is that some people doesn’t even know that they have the desire to do this, but once they were here, they discovered it”, tells me team-captain Karim Gaié, 26, from Senegal. Gaié was already living in Italy, selling T-shirts with a cousin. “I had came from Africa by plane. Dakar-Milano Malpensa, in 2006. For those of us who have a passport, it’s easier and cheaper than the money they charge the desperate people that try to leave everything behind, but have no papers or proper documentation”, he reveals. 

As many others, Gaié was working in the harvest of citrics. He had a football history, having been part of Senegal’s U17 national team and with experience in his country’s Second Division. “After a few weeks, there were already 25 selected players. Some of them were terrific, some of them so-so, but we had a team”, he adds.

Domenico Mammoliti is another pivotal figure in the KOA Bosco story. He works in car workshop, he studies theology and he also had achieved credentials for becoming a football manager. But what made Mammoliti a perfect man for the job of coaching KOA Bosco is his extraordinary sensibility. “You don’t have an idea what this really mean to us”, he says, emotionally. “To have a team of black players, in this town, after everything that happened here, without the help of anyone but ourselves... and knowing the stories these players are trying to leave behind... it’s simply too much”. 

Life isn’t perfect for the players, though. Most of them still live in tendopoli, tents set up as temporary shelter, but that in the end became definitive. Some of them, as Gaié points, don’t have hot water or electricity. “Our camp has 72 tents, and the average is 6 people per tent. You think that you’re in the South of Italy, but in winter it’s really cold, you know. Still, for us it’s better than what we left behind”, he says. 

KOA Bosco, the team that nobody thought could be born, is now a hit in Italy’s seventh tier. They are strong candidates for promotion and they became proud representatives of Rosarno, the town that had nearly killed them. “We’re becoming famous, there are journalists coming here and trying to speak to us. And we also travelled to Turin and met Pavel Nedved, which was a very emotional moment for all of us”. 

KOA Bosco now has the support of the whole country. And reflects the paradox of a rich land full of good will that only needed an idea to make lives better. That idea was written on a leaflet. “Come to train and play for a football team”. That was the seed. The fruits are now blossoming. [Ø]

Alejandra Altamirano Halle 
@alehalle
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