Meet Pagi, Italy’s First Ever All-Migrant Soccer Team

On the island of Sardinia, asylum seekers rebuild their lives on the football pitch.

Sassari's Pagi soccer team
Sassari's Pagi soccer team
Nicola Pinna

SASSARI â€" The 11 asylum seekers who make up this multiethnic team have so far played just one official game, but they have already made Italian sporting history. "Pagi" is the first soccer team in Italy entirely composed of migrants seeking political asylum. Each one of them says they arrived in Italy by braving the waters of the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Now they live in Sassari, a mid-sized city in Sardinia, an island they had never even heard of before winding up here.

The team’s captain is a 23-year-old whose life was at risk before fleeing his homeland of Togo. "I was accused of causing a car accident in which two people died, and their relatives decided to kill me," he says.

Jeffrey Omonigho, the team’s Nigerian goalkeeper, had been living on the run for years. "My family is opposed to the government," he explains. "My father was murdered and my fate there was already sealed."

Pagi’s potential star striker is Collins, a 26-year-old with a contagious smile. His daughter, Josephine, was born in Sassari, and he hopes to stay here and build their future together.

The team's adventure in the Sardinian second-level league, which is the eighth division overall of Italian soccer, began with a 3-0 loss last month. In order for Andrew, Victory, Ali, Baba, Osa and their teammates to take to the field, the Italian soccer federation (FIGC) had to provide them with an exemption from the regulation that each team may not field more than two non-European Union citizens.

"At first we thought of doing the opposite, with two Italian players in a team of foreign players, but then the FIGC allowed us to form an all-migrant team," says Pierpaolo Cermelli, the team’s president, who also runs a local community center that hosts 300 migrants. The team’s manager is Mauro Fanti, an ex-goalkeeper who is working hard to teach the players the fundamentals of tactical play. "They’re all enthusiastic, but they don’t know the rules of the game," he says. "Winning requires a certain technique as well. We’re working on this."

Home games and training sessions are held at a field in the outskirts of the city, not far from the former juvenile court, since transformed into a housing center for refugees. Compared to the town of Mortara in northern Italy where the mayor refused to let migrants play soccer on a city public field, Sassari seems like another planet: The players train every morning, and in the afternoons they play short games in the center’s courtyard.

Looking for sponsors

There are still 30 players on the team, as selecting a starting eleven has proven quite difficult. The team still has no sponsors, though the suppliers have given special discounts. Otherwise all expenses are paid by the cooperative that runs the refugee center.

"Every time there’s a soccer match on TV, our cafeteria turns into a stadium, so we came up with this idea," says Fabiana Denurra, the cooperative’s president. "The young men are waiting for a response to their asylum requests and they don’t have much to do while they wait. They can’t legally work, so we thought forming a soccer team would be a good pastime and a great way to integrate them."

Jallow Alagi, 24, hails from Nigeria. On the pitch he’s a striker, but off it he’s an interpreter who helps bring calm to the locker room. Dribbling isn’t his strong suit, but he is the wise young man of the Pagi soccer team. "Here we finally understand what it means for everyone to be equal," he says. "Now all of Africa is cheering for us."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!