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Italian football great Franco Baresi opens sports centre in Lebanon for UNHCR

Franco Baresi (second from right) presents an award to a young football player after earlier opening the Btekhnay sports centre in Tripoli, Lebanon.

Franco Baresi (second from right) presents an award to a young football player after earlier opening the Btekhnay sports centre in Tripoli, Lebanon. © UNHCR

TRIPOLI, Lebanon, December 19 (UNHCR) AC Milan legend Franco Baresi has opened a renovated sports centre in the Lebanon city of Tripoli under a UNHCR project aimed at helping young Syrian refugees overcome trauma and make friends with Lebanese children.

The AC Milan Foundation funded the improvements made to the Btekhnay sports centre, where boys and girls, including those living with disability, can play sports in safety. Two other sport centres in Tripoli were also restored as part of the “Sports for Peace” project.

Baresi, who is regarded as one of football’s greatest ever players and won the Champions League three times with AC Milan and the World Cup for Italy in 1982, said he was happy to support Sports for Peace. “It was amazing to see the results achieved, such as the rehabilitation of safe play spaces like the Btekhnay Sport Centre and the training of 45 coaches,” he said after opening the centre last week.

Sports for Peace was launched last March and aims to support Syrian refugee children and young people who are trying to overcome the traumatic consequences of their displacement. This will help them better interact and integrate with the local Lebanese community.

More than 1,400 children, Syrian and Lebanese, attended the opening ceremony. “It was a really touching experience to see the children play, enjoy themselves and smile after so much pain. This is further evidence that sport is a really powerful tool to promote integration and peace,” said the 54-year-old Baresi, who retired in 1997 but still coaches.

The Sports for Peace initiative also includes training for 45 coaches on the importance of providing protection for young people and on gender equality. Sports for Peace is at the centre of a partnership between UNHCR and the AC Milan Foundation.

“Sport is an important vehicle to promote the core values of good sportsmanship and respect and is an essential tool for building a culture of peace. This is why we hope that the collaboration with the AC Milan Foundation can continue,” said Federico Clementi, who heads UNHCR’s private sector fund-raising operations in Italy.

By Alberto Bobbio in Tripoli, Lebanon