28-year-old Venezuelan captain Francisco Pol Hurtado and his team – AEL Larissa – were responsible for a rare, noteworthy moment in Greek second division fútbol action over the weekend.
The capitán venezolano and his squad staged a sit-down protest over migrant deaths ahead of their 2-0 win over Acharnaikos on Friday. All 22 players on the pitch – plus coaches and substitutes – sat in silence for two minutes in a show of respect towards the hundreds of refugees who have lost their lives in attempts to escape conflict or persecution in their home countries and complete dangerous journeys to the Aegean islands (just this weekend, at least 33 migrants – including five children – drowned in the Aegean sea when their boat capsized).
“The administration of AEL, the coaches, and the players will observe two minutes of silence just after the start of the match in memory of the hundreds of children who continue to lose their lives every day in the Aegean due to the brutal indifference of the EU and Turkey,” an announcement over the club’s PA rang out ahead of kickoff. According to club officials, the protest was “an effort to drive the authorities to mobilize all those who seem to have been desensitized to the heinous crimes that are being perpetrated in the Aegean.”
Pol is a Caracas native who’s been honing his craft in Greece for almost a decade (he’s played with Paniliakos, Aias Salamina, Panachaiki GE, and Asteras Tripoli). He started his career as a young futbolista at Colegio La Salle in the Venezuelan capital before relocating to Spain with his father and brother at age 15 to join the UD Gramenet youth system in Catalunya. In 2010-11, after winning the Greek third division with Panachaiki, he was voted player of the season and graced with the honor of lifting the trophy.
This news came a mere 24 hours after the IOC announced that it would allow a small team of refugees to compete at Rio 2016 for the very first time in the history of the Olympic Games. At that point, we questioned how the international sporting community would respond to the refugee crisis – do we close our hearts and ignore obligations to help, or do we keep sight of what’s important? The IOC’s decision was a promising and positive step. Given soccer’s influential and potent uniting power (especially on the European continent, where the crisis is currently most acutely felt), this was a fantastic follow-up.