Taking the Fight to Calais

VINCENT Kompany will tell you that being injured isn’t nice. When the Manchester City centre-back tore his calf last December, it was the start of a long and gruelling recovery process which saw the Belgian international miss out on the remainder of the Premier League season and the European Championships.   

Whilst Kompany was trying to bounce back in time for the Euros, he released a video on social media allowing his fans a glimpse into his ‘detox’ period of rehabilitation abroad, where he was seen performing drills in a swimming pool at an unknown luxurious resort in Italy and indulging in a mud bath. The clip also featured him jetting off to Los Angeles where he worked on strength, power and conditioning with Manchester City’s head sports therapist Ben Thompson.

Such is the rehab life of a multi-million pound football addict and arguably the best centre-back in Manchester.

Stacey Copeland won silver at the European Women’s Boxing Championships in Bucharest two years ago           Image: Manchester Evening News

Across this same city, Stacey Copeland can easily sympathise. As a former footballer for Doncaster Belles, she saw her playing career cut short by injury at the age of 29 (the same age when Kompany limped off against Sunderland last December) before becoming a professional female boxer for England, winning silver at the Boxing European Championships in 2014. Her career in the ring has since been blighted by a knee injury, for which she had surgery in April this year.  For Copeland, a detox in Italy and flying to LA was hardly on the table. Boxers are rough around the edges remember – and so was Copeland’s own rehabilitation.

Despite expecting 4-6 week recovery, Copeland’s goal of returning to training was hampered by a chemical burn she sustained during the surgery, which severely postponed her time out of the ring. The implications of a small surgical error resulted in a heavy blow for the Stockport-based boxer: it meant pulling out of this year’s European Championships in November in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Kompany switched from player to pundit for the Euros and fitted in well alongside Thierry Henry for the Beeb (he probably made a few bob out of it too). Instead of flying over to Bulgaria to support her GB colleagues in November, Copeland is heading for Calais, where she and her boyfriend Mark will set up a week-long boxing camp for destitute refugees in what the media circus has coined ‘The Jungle’.

A study by researchers at the University of Birmingham last year concluded that the camp was in an ‘absolutely abject situation’         Image: IBT Times

To be able to fund the trip, Copeland needs enough to cover all the equipment for a week’s worth of boxing excitement from punch bags and gloves right down to basic clothing and footwear as well as stationary for teaching English to the refugees. Since starting her crowdfunding site, she has had an overwhelming respons: initially setting a £500 target to fund basic costs, £1000 was donated within the first week. The only thing left on the list to hire is a van to transport everything.

“When I rung up one van hire place, the guy on the phone said, ‘We’ll have to give it a good check over to make sure you don’t bring any of them back with you.” What was intended as a light-hearted comment underlines the huge social stigma attached to Europe’s largest migrant shanty town, where it is thought as many as 5000 live in squalid, overcrowded make-shift tents, often plagued by rats and with water sources contaminated by faeces. Many of these refugees, hungry and distressed from having made perilous journeys from war-torn or poverty stricken countries, are often victims of tuberculosis, scabies and post-traumatic stress, according to a report published in October last year.

There is a simple message to Copeland’s mission: the powerful role that sport can play in the life of any human, even if they are suffering in diabolical and appalling conditions. Sport has the power to transmit a sense of escapism and positivity, be valued and appreciated.  There are the thrills of accomplishing a new skill. The feelings of adrenalin which stimulate hopes, dreams and ambitions – no matter how big or small. These are the feel-good factors which Copeland will aim to develop among the refugees she meets and help “transport somebody to Wembley for ten minutes” or encourage someone to “be fighting for that world boxing title in Vegas”.

10 athletes competed at the Rio Games for the Refugee Olympic Team in an effort to heighten the magnitude of the worldwide refugee crisis          Image: Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

“You can’t ignore the fact that in an area of conflict or poverty, there are still human beings who can be engaged in a positive activity,” Copeland points out. “It doesn’t have to be boxing – it could be any sport,” she adds. “We’re taking cricket and footy stuff too!”

Copeland’s Calais camp will be a testament to the optimistic spirit emulated by the Refugee Team which made its debut this year at the Rio Olympics. These refugees-turned-Olympians, who overcame barriers to fulfil their own dreams, ultimately serve as a reminder of how their problematic engagement with sport can be overcome with the right support.

Stacey Copeland will get soaked no doubt, not in some vitamin enriched mud-bath, but in the middle of some uninviting camp in northern France during a wet autumn month where you and I will probably never go. Miles from her England compatriots who will be fighting to become European medallists like she did two years ago, Copeland will be fighting it out in The Jungle – meeting refugees who, on their seemingly never-ending journey towards stability and happiness, are waiting for their own chance to properly ‘recover’.

To sponsor Stacey Copeland and to read her own personal message about her Calais boxing camp, click here: https://www.gofundme.com/2kg34t5c

Fiona Tomas

Featured image: The Gryphon 

Related article: Copeland Fighting for a Female Cause

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