Syrian team denied visas for Sweden’s Gothia Cup

Syrian team denied visas for Sweden's Gothia Cup
Photo: The Gothia Cup trophy at the 2011 opening ceremony
One of four Syrian teams due to participate in Sweden's Gothia Cup - the world's largest youth football tournament - has been denied entry visas after assessment of the country's security situation and the applicants' flight risk.

The team in question is from the city of Qamishli in northern Syria and according to reports the club was informed of the decision “a couple of days ago”.

The civil war-torn country however stands to be represented at the tournament after three teams from another club, Al Farasa, were issued entry visas on Friday afternoon.

Four members of Al Farasa’s Gothia Cup party have however been denied visas pending a final decision on Monday.

The decisions have been taken by the Italian embassy in Lebanon which is responsible for handling Sweden’s consular issues.

According to Gothia Cup press officer Pär Karlsson, it is unusual for teams that have registered for the tournament to be denied a visa to enter Sweden.

Sweden’s foreign ministry has confirmed that a Syrian team has been denied visas to participate in the Gothia Cup, which opens in Gothenburg on Monday.

“The reasons for the decision are confidential, so I can’t say more about the case. But generally, individual assessments are made for each person,” said Jenny Häggmark at the foreign ministry press office.

There is some history of international youth players coming to Sweden to participate in the tournament who have then refused to return to their home countries and the foreign ministry confirmed that this factor is a key consideration.

“We investigate whether there is reasonable doubt that the person will not return to their home country and that the purpose of the trip is not the one which has been declared in the application.”

Furthermore an assessment is made of the security situation in the applicant’s home country and of whether the applicant has previously visited the Schengen area, or previously applied for a visa or asylum and been refused.

In 1993 more than 20 players from a Nigerian team applied for asylum in Sweden after attending the tournament. Several of the players stated that they were from Sudan and all the applications were rejected.

Following the incident several teams from Nigeria were denied entry visas to participate in subsequent tournaments.

Despite the prior incidents and the rejection of visas for the Syrian team, the Gothia Cup management team regards the working relationship with the Migration Board and Swedish embassies across the world to be a positive one.

“We usually know if a club will be admitted or not. But the situation can change rapidly, as now in Syria. We obviously respect the Swedish government decisions in visa issues, although we think it is sad for the young people who can not come here,” said Pär Karlsson.

The Gothia Cup football tournament organized by Gothenburg top flight club BK Häcken. This year’s cup will involve more than 1,600 youth teams from 80 countries in a week of football festivities.

Matches begin from around 8am on Monday at a slew of pitches across the city. The opening ceremony will be held at 8pm on Monday at Nya Ullevi stadium.

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