There are no gay soccer teams in Morocco. The African nation on the Atlantic coast maintains a ban on homosexuality that stifles the organization of many groups that could bring together a local LGBTQ community.

Yet in Ireland, asylum-seeker Hicham Lamchaali has found a home on a local gay soccer team, according to RTE, Ireland’s version of National Public Radio.

In a new feature piece on the RTE’s website, Lamchaali talks about living in Morocco as a closeted gay man, and then arriving in Ireland and finding the Dublin Devils.

“The Dublin Devils mean a lot to me,” Lamchaali told RTE. “I can’t even find the words to explain what they mean to me. They are more than family. They are my friends. You can be free to [say] who you are dating, to say who you are without fear.”

The power of community in sports

It’s the sentiment so many participants in LGBTQ sports leagues have expressed over the years. In a sports world that has a reputation of rejecting people in our community, finding “safe spaces” to kick a ball or shoot hoops can be powerfully affirming.

For asylum seekers, we’re finding more and more the power of sports to unite people across cultures.

Last year Kenneth Macharia faced deportation back to Kenya. He too had found a home in LGBTQ sports — this time rugby — and he saw his teammates rally around him, creating a petition and speaking out against his deportation. Macharia did get a reprieve from the deportation threat.

Gay athletes support their teammate

A third gay athlete — Raymond Mashamba — is also seeking asylum in the UK after being outed in Zimbabwe. Mashamba has equally found support among his teammates, with Titans FC.

From Sky Sports:

In a short space of time, Raymond has become a much-loved figure with his Titans club-mates; they have contributed letters of recommendation to support his claim to remain in the UK. There may also be an opportunity to convert his Zimbabwean refereeing qualification into an FA equivalent.

While LGBTQ sports teams and leagues cannot provide legal asylum, it’s not surprising that they are offering emotional refuge for athletes who have never been in an environment that welcomes all of who they are.