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Karen national football team playing for victory away from home



In Minnesota in the US, the newly established Karen national football team is aiming to provide a platform to promote the struggles of the ethnic group back in Myanmar, as well as foster a sense of community and identity in their new home for future generations

One of my favourite players of all time is actually Australian, Mark Schwarzer," says Saw Napoleon, goalkeeper for the Karen national football team. "When I was a kid, my dad used to get me the goalkeeper gloves that Schwarzer wore. I probably had about three pairs of them, they were my favourite."
Like his hero Schwarzer, the now-retired six foot four former Australian national team goalkeeper, Napoleon is the first name on the team sheet for the newly established Karen Football Association.
Aspiring to fulfil the role of representatives of the Karen people, both still in Myanmar and in exile, they have been given a platform to do so through the Confederation of Independent Football Associations , the governing body for self-proclaimed nations and peoples not affiliated with established global international football confederation FIFA.
Johnson spent the next four months laying operational foundations, creating branding for the team and sorting out finances. Word spread soon after, and he started to scout players across the US who would form the team’s first squad.
"Like with every national team, we’re in a difficult situation with the geographical spread of our players," explained Johnson. And while the bulk of the current pool is based in Minnesota and the US, unlike other teams, a large portion of potential players are stuck in refugee camps on the Myanmar-Thai border.
The association is scoping out the possibility of including them as well. "The fact we got to that moment was a huge win itself."
Support from the local Karen community during the camps was integral to its success. "The community let them stay in their homes, provided transport and even food," said Johnson. "Those were huge expenses that were taken off our backs and it was fantastic to connect with the community."
The association so far has been a success, and while Covid-19 has put training and matches on pause for now, Johnson is not downbeat.
"I’m a coach, naturally I always want us to win on the pitch," he said.

I now have my baby son who, when he gets older, if he wants to push himself and work hard, he now has a team to represent

Napoleon, the Karen team’s goalkeeper and captain
This article was written by ALEXI DEMETRIADI
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