The Black Pearls Football Club arrives in 2018 closer to the dream of becoming a global team of refugees, after closing 2017 as champions of the Rio State Championship C Series, which moved the team up one rank in the competition. In addition to the efforts to expand the project to the Middle East, a move that the board hopes to achieve in 2018, the club has just hired Venezuelan Juan Andrés Rodriguez Collado, 18, who will stay for at least two seasons playing for the Black Pearls Under-20 team. He will live and study with his teammates in Paty do Alferes, a city in the south of the state of Rio that houses the club’s headquarters.
Juan was already an athlete in Venezuela and even played for the Under-15 National Team and for Carabobo FC, a first division club in Venezuela. Since he arrived in Rio one year ago, Juan had been seeking an opportunity in the local football scene while maintaining routine training on the fields at Flamengo Park.
“I always heard of Brazil as a global elite in football. There are many good players here. I felt the difference when I arrived, I could see that I tired long before the Brazilians. But I believe in myself and now I will prepare and give my best for the Black Pearls”, says Juan.
Until the addition of Juan, the Black Pearls was composed of Brazilians and refugees from Haiti, where the team was created. Now, with the severe crisis in Venezuela, many inhabitants of the neighboring country are seeking better living conditions in Brazil. It was the case of Juan and his family, as the athlete’s father, José Collado, explains:
“We left Venezuela for political reasons, including death threats. I was impressed by the recent events in my country, with the death of more than 100 young people in protests. Thank God we were able to make a home here in Brazil, because it could have been my son there, he would have been out on the streets with his friends, protesting too”, says José.
To first enroll in Rio’s State Championship with Haitian athletes, the Black Pearls achieved to change the regulation that stipulated limits to the participation of foreigners in the competition. The club won a lawsuit with the Rio Football Federation so the refugees are no longer considered foreigners.
“If for the labor legislation refugees are seen as Brazilians and don’t need a special visa to work in the country, then why not do the same in sports, which is one of the most important means of social integration? That was one of our points”, says Luciana Lopes, Black Pearls’ lawyer and director at the Brazilian Institute of Sports Law. “Refugees are different from immigrants, refugees did not leave their countries because they wanted to, or because they would like to try a better life abroad. Instead they were forced to leave their countries at the risk of losing their lives.”
The Black Pearls Academy embrace the mission of helping refugee athletes to show their worth to the world. Stories like Luka Modric’s, who began his career with refugee status and was just the best player in the FIFA Club World Cup 2017, reinforce the certainty that refugee camps and shelters are filled with precious talents just waiting for an opportunity.
Juan’s hiring is the first step of the Black Pearls beyond the Brazil-Haiti connection, and his arrival is expected to be the first of many that will make the Black Pearls a world-wide team of refugees.