the appeal of the President of the French Ice Hockey Federation

Franceinfo: sports: Who is behind the arrival of young Ukrainian hockey players to France, first in Cergy, from March 11?
Pierre-Yves Gerbeau: When the war started, the president of the Ukrainian federation called Luc Tardif, president of the International Hockey Federation, to tell him that he had to evacuate his licensees and ask for help. Luc then contacted me to ask me to speak with Alexandra (Slatvytska), Secretary General of the Ukrainian Federation, to see what we could organize. At the time, she was still in Ukraine, taking bombs to her head while coordinating the evacuation of all the hockey players’ families. She asked me if France could help her. It was obvious and we wanted to do well.

How did you organize yourself?
We discussed with the Cergy-Pontoise metropolitan area and the Cergy hockey club, which we are very close to. Everyone was fully behind this project, to welcome young hockey players and give them the opportunity to practice their sport. We had to make a long-term plan, think about what we could come up with in relation to the others. Our common thread is to use sports to restore some normalcy and smile to children. So that it is then reflected on the mother, on the sister, and that they all come to think a little less about their father and their big brother fighting in Ukraine.

Many people in the League had offered to be host families in their homes, but I did not want this solution. Home stays are very good, but we knew the conflict would not last a week. Moreover, the families are not ready to receive traumatized people, children who have lost their parents, mothers and families where the big brother and father stayed in Ukraine to fight. Dramatic situations that require psychological help. By being welcomed on the leisure island of Cergy, the Ukrainian refugees are accommodated, fed and benefit from psychological and medical help.

How is it organized to send a bus to the Polish-Ukrainian border?
It was not easy for several reasons. While we were in the middle of the logistical set-up, Alexandra (Slatvytska) disappeared for a whole day while we talked to each other three times a day. I was worried before she wrote to me to say: “Don’t worry, I’m fine, but I’m on the subway.” In my world where everything is going well, I wondered why she was there.

“A bomb had hit her house, she had to hide in the subway with her 7-year-old son.”

Pierre-Yves Gerbeau

at frankriginfo: sports

The good news is that we managed to evacuate him to Prague. She spends her days and nights evacuating all families to Ukrainian licensees.
To get back on the bus, I had found funding thanks to the CNOSF (French National Olympic and Sports Committee), which very kindly helped us. We filled this bus with food and drink. It was incredible because we had to save the families via a humanitarian corridor, but the bridge was bombed. There were wounded, who were evacuated urgently to the hospital in Warsaw. And we switched places to pick up the families three times during the day.

One month after their arrival can young people play hockey?
The Cergy club got up and running very quickly, and at FFHG we changed all the rules so that the young people could skate. And the day after their arrival, the kids went out on the field next to their residence to play hockey. We had found plastic sticks and cages for them. Today, they are all in school, the region and especially the urban area has been incredible.

The drama still exists, but being able to calm down, make people smile at you, welcome you and see your child do what he loves most in life, it’s a great project.

This model is also being developed in other cities in France …
We were an example with Cergy and it worked. I then spoke to the whole hockey family to say: we have a model, it is fixed, housing must be permanent, people must be cared for (for food, schooling, psychological support). If you want to house families, here are the specifications. Haute-Savoie volunteered through Chamonix’s mayor, Eric Fournier, and one of the shareholders of the professional club, Christophe Ville, who threw himself into the project with body and soul.
I am very proud that the whole French hockey family is mobilizing. The Courchevel club has arrived, we are about to finish the arrival of a third group, which should arrive in the coming days.

French and Ukrainian players in training, April 7, 2022 in Cergy.  (FRANCEINFO: SPORT / Simon Bardet)

Do you want other unions to emulate you?
If the Ministry, CNOSF and other federations could do the same and use the sport as a common thread in the reception of young refugees, it would be very virtuous. I wrote to the Minister (Roxana Maracineanu), who, due to the presidential election, certainly does not have much time to devote to this. We need help, support. The family of French Olympic sports, through the CNOSF and the very strong federations of Ukraine, such as basketball, handball, football, could emerge. The model exists, you just have to call their Ukrainian colleagues to enable the young people. There are many gooders, but “Yakafokon” tires me. We must act.

“If we can accommodate 3,000 people instead of 300, and give them a smile and hope, then let’s go!”

Pierre-Yves Gerbeau

at frankriginfo: sports

Instead of talking or giving, with sports, we have the opportunity to do. And thus allow the young people to not “just” be out of danger, but in addition to practicing their sport. It is very strong. Today, some people like me are frustrated because sport no longer has the place it deserves in French society. The 2024 doctors are coming and we only have one deputy minister. By welcoming these young people and practicing inclusion through sport, we put them back in the heart of French society.

Leave a Comment