‘Captains of Zaatari’ Director Ali El Arabi on Soccer as Ticket to a Future For Syrian Refugee Teens

I did not want this documentary to look like traditional documentaries that we have in our part of the world, where there is this conventional image of refugees, especially on TV stations. That is not what I wanted to portray. I wanted the audience to live with the captains and share everything about them: their journey, growth, pains and joys. I wanted to show that these refugees have a life. And that they have a right to connect with the world and to feel that that are a part of it.

The other protagonist of the doc is soccer, their ticket to a better life.

Fawzi told me that the only place where he feels that he is not a refugee is on the soccer pitch. I feel that if refugees aren’t allowed to express their abilities they can be snatched up by terrorist groups, who can convince them that they do play a part in the world and exploit them in a different way. Sport is one of the most important ways of establishing peace. And since soccer draws large crowds, lots of people love it, it can resonate widely and people can identify with the cause.

In this film we are comparing two contradictory worlds. The world of the poor, represented by the refugees. And the world of the rich, which is represented by professional soccer players who are stars. To put it simply: refugees can be sponsored and supported by soccer in a huge way. Personally I’ve started sensing that from conversations with some of the most famous players around the world. Through an empathy campaign I really believe that they can help refugees’ lives get better. The cause of these two dreamy young men can blaze a trail and big sports entities like FIFA [the international governing body of soccer] could adopt their cause.

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