Refugees and asylum seekers unite around netball

The team in a line from behind wearing netball bibs Image copyright Heather Lewis
Image caption The women are from across the world, including some who have been trafficked into the UK

They have fled famine, violence and abuse across the world, with some coming from opposing nations at war.

But now they are all united on the same team.

Meet the Splott Superstars, a Cardiff netball club for refugees and asylum seekers, groups which have numerous barriers to taking part in sport.

"Sport brings people together, there's something about just throwing a ball that levels everybody out", said organiser Heather Lewis.

"We've got someone here who has walked for seven months from Syria," she added.

Ms Lewis started the group with friend Vicki Sutton two years ago over a coffee. Now the group meets every week.

The players are women from across the world, including some who have been trafficked into the UK. Two girls from warring countries now play side by side.

Previous studies have highlighted the barriers refugees and asylum-seekers face in taking part in sport and exercise, including language, a lack of resources and their previous traumatic experiences.

But the Welsh Government has made funding available for projects helping participation levels.

Image copyright Heather Lewis
Image caption The team is celebrating its second birthday

The Splott Superstars club costs about £4,500 to run, including taxis to make sure the women arrive and get home safely, as well as a creche service.

However it relies largely on the generosity of about 100 people.

"Some of the girls are running around in international netball players' trainers because they have donated them to us. People have given us prom dresses for our end of season dinner," said Ms Lewis.

Among the players, many of whom cannot be identified due to their circumstances, are a mother and daughter from Sri Lanka, whose names have been changed to protect their identity.

Little family

Anishka and Hashini came to the UK after fleeing poverty. They live in Cardiff and have been coming to the netball club since it started two years ago.

Mother-of-two Anishka said the club is a way of making new friends and she cannot wait for the weekly Wednesday session, when her husband and son are often left at home feeling jealous.

"When we get presents at Christmas [from the club] they say 'that's not fair'," added her daughter Hashini.

Hashini, who is going to university next year, said: "It's like a little family that we have. If we miss netball they will phone us and ask why we weren't in and make sure we are ok."

The college student has even been getting advice at the group for an upcoming job interview.

The group in Cardiff has secured some of the funding it needs for the next two years while there are plans to start another netball club for asylum seekers and refugees in Newport this summer.

"I don't think I have ever been so thankful for things in life before...because of the richness of them being our friends now and sharing their life with us", added Ms Lewis.

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