On the 15th of November, Geneva-Servette Hockey Club (GSHC), the current leader of the National League - the top tier of the Swiss ice hockey championship - defeated second-placed HC Biel 6-2. The match was extraordinary in many ways, not only because it brought together the two best current teams in the Swiss league, but also because support for refugees was at the centre of it. Indeed, as winter approaches, the club decided to mobilise its teams on the ice, but also outside. Switzerland for UNHCR was the charity partner of the match, and the two entities joined forces with the Hospice Général and the HUG to show their support for refugees through various activities.
Ten days before the match, GSHC players visited the residents of the Tattes welcoming centre to introduce the children and the community to ice hockey. Sherkan, the eagle that brings the puck at the beginning of the games, and Calvin and Calvina, the club's mascots, were also present. The unaccompanied refugee minors from the Etoile centre were also able to meet the club's players, who in turn gave them a guided tour of the Vernets ice rink and its various secrets on the following Saturday.
In both centres, club jackets were distributed, allowing the refugees and asylum seekers to not only spend the winter in warmth, but also to receive a clear message from the club: you are part of our community. To underline their clear commitment, the club also invited 400 refugees and asylum seekers from the canton to attend the match, all with the help of the Hospice général.
On site, the public was invited to donate their old winter jackets. And the club's supporters responded, showing their commitment to those forced to flee. Hundreds of winter jackets were dropped off at collection points organised by UNHCR and Switzerland for UNHCR staff. After being washed by the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG), these jackets will be delivered to the vestiaire social of the CSP and Caritas and then redistributed to asylum seekers, refugees and other vulnerable people living in Geneva. For its part, Switzerland for UNHCR has organised a collection of donations to help those forced to flee to face the winter.
Support for refugees was the theme of the evening. Through local associations and Switzerland for UNHCR, Genevans were able to support them, wherever they are at the moment: in Geneva, or in other parts of the world.
Following this great match in support of refugees, which ended with a victory for the Genevan team, what objective is the club trying to achieve by committing itself to causes such as refugees during your matches?
Sport is a vector of strong emotions that allows humans to come together at the expense of the social barriers of our world. Sport is also built on important values such as sharing and helping others. All this is part of the Geneva-Servette Hockey Club's DNA and this is why it is important for our Club to be involved in the local community. Our participation in some great causes is natural and we want to use our notoriety to help those who are not in the spotlight.
In addition, we welcomed a young Ukrainian refugee into our academy this season. His heartbreaking story touched us and it motivated us even more to support the cause.
GSHC players Calvin and Calvina, and even Eagle Sherkan, came to meet the refugees who reside at the Tattes and Etoile reception centres. Many residents have told us how happy they were during these visits. Did you get any feedback from the players ?
The players, but also the people who organised these visits, loved sharing these unique moments in the welcoming centres. Seeing so many smiles on the children's faces and their families is really heart-warming. Helping each other is one of the strongest values in sport and the players live by this every day. They are aware of how lucky they are to be able to make a living from their passion and it is a driving force for them to be able to share it with the local community.
What role can GSHC play in the integration of refugee communities in Geneva?
By associating itself with great causes, the Club wants to use its notoriety to help the community. Refugees in Geneva are (too) often ignored or stigmatised when they have had to flee their country for the safety of themselves and their families. This is not an easy thing to live with and it takes a lot of courage to leave your home like that. By doing actions like the "Winter Support", the GSHC wants to put the spotlight on refugees to show that they exist in Geneva and that we can act together to help them.
We can say that the show was there on Tuesday night, GSHC is first in the championship and clearly a team in top form. How do you see the rest of the championship?
We are lucky to have an excellent team and so far the results are there. The show is there every night and the public is always growing in number at the matches. We also know that a hockey season is long and that we must not rush into anything. The goal is to be in the top four at the end of the regular season to prepare for the Playoffs and to have home ice advantage. Once we get there, anything can happen.