Canada’s Alphonso Davies in action © REUTERS/Henry Romero
By Raye Mocioiu
At just 22 years old, Alphonso Davies has already made sports history—and he’s set to do it again. Known for his incredible technique on the field, Davies, who was widely lauded as one of the finest teenage talents in the world, made his mark on the soccer pitch as the youngest senior international debutant and goalscorer for the senior men’s national team. In 2021, the athlete was appointed the newest Global Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)—the first soccer player and Canadian to do so.
Born in a refugee camp in Ghana to Liberian parents who fled the civil war in their home country, Davies knows first-hand what it means to be a refugee. When Davies was five years old, he and his family were resettled in Canada.
He also knows that as an athlete, he has the power to inspire a new generation of Canadian soccer fans.
After becoming the youngest to play, at the age of 16 he became the youngest player ever to score for the Canadian national team. In January 2019, he moved to FC Bayern Munich, helping the German giants win the German championship later that year.
“Over the last year or so, I’ve had a lot of support and interest from my fans in the work I do for refugees and UNHCR,” Davies shared. “I think when people learn about my personal story, it can really change their minds about how they see refugees. Anyone can become a refugee, at any point and anywhere.
“Becoming a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR was one of the proudest moments of my life, it made my parents happy as well. That I am the first soccer player and the first Canadian to be a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR made it even more special.”
Building a platform
Davies has repeatedly shared how important it is to use his platform in a positive way, advocating for refugees and the transformative power of sports—and showing how the two can intersect.
“It goes without saying that the main reason I do what I do, is because I was once a refugee,” Davies said. “I knew the moment I became a professional soccer player that I wanted to help others who’ve been forced to flee. I want to use my platform to give them hope and drive, and maybe be a role model for others who went through a similar experience.”
When the pandemic started in 2020, Davies teamed up with soccer player Asmir Begovic on a livestream tournament, where the two athletes, both former refugees, competed online to aid the COVID-19 response and raise money to help refugees. The funds raised during the livestream helped UNHCR provide soap and clean water for refugees. A year later, UNHCR launched a video with soccer community 433, in which Davies connected to three young refugees in Liberia, Canada, and Germany.
“I know the power sport can have on people, especially refugees,” Davies shared. “In refugee camps, the most popular sport is usually soccer. You don’t need much to play and it can give kids a safe place and a way to forget about what they went through and help them make friends. I’ve also heard stories of refugees walking miles and miles to see me play on TV for Bayern Munich.
These stories humble me and motivate me to do more and better. Soccer gave me hope, stability and a future—I know becoming professional is not an option for everyone, but sport can still give people a healthy outlet and a sense of belonging. It helped me settle into Canada and make my own friends. Working with UNHCR on sport campaigns has been very special.”
This year, Davies took part in another sporting campaign for refugee aid. In a joint appeal with UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP), Davies and five other leading soccer players came together to raise funds to help refugees who have fled their homes and displaced people inside Ukraine. The appeal, titled #Football4Ukraine, combined UNHCR’s expertise in protecting families forced to flee with the incredible power of audiences worldwide coming together to provide aid for Ukraine.
“The need for support is growing by the day,” Davies said in March. “This is why this appeal is important, to get urgent aid where it is needed, for everyone.”
Investing in the future
“I’ve learned from UNHCR about the many difficulties that refugees and displaced people still face,” Davies explained. “I’ve learned how much help is needed still. There are now over 100 million people displaced around the world. That’s a lot more since I became a Goodwill Ambassador in 2021, when there were around 84 million. That’s a lot of people who need support.”
In early 2021, Davies helped launch a Canadian Government campaign, called Together for Learning, to promote access to quality education for refugees around the world. The campaign marked a three-year, international, targeted effort to promote quality education and lifelong learning for refugees and forcibly displaced children and youth.
“It’s crazy to think that refugees are not guaranteed access to school and learning,” said Davies. “At higher education levels, refugee enrolment stands at only six per cent. For me, going to school was one of the big ways I could chase after my soccer dreams.”
Approximately 3.7 million refugee children are out of school, according to the UNHCR. On top of that, girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school if they live in conflict-affected countries, and only about seven refugee girls are enroled in secondary education for every ten refugee boys.
History in the making
As the youngest senior international debutant and goal-scorer for the senior men’s national team, Davies has already made a name for himself and earned a spot in sports history. Now, he’ll be playing in the World Cup for Canada’s men’s national team—another monumental moment, as this is the first time in over 30 years that Canada will be playing. When asked how it feels to be part of another historic sporting moment, Davies shared:
“Wow, when it’s phrased like that, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come—I was a refugee, I became a professional soccer player in Edmonton, and now we’ll be competing at the World Cup for Canada. It’s a dream come true: we will play against some of the most talented soccer players in the world. People I’ve dreamt of playing against all my life. It’s very exciting.
“It reminds me of how grateful and thankful I am to Canada for welcoming me and my family all those years ago. And how having the opportunity to play soccer when I was young opened up so many opportunities for me in the future. That’s also why I’ve decided to donate the money I make by playing at the World Cup to charity.”
Davies announced his decision to donate his World Cup earnings to charity in early August, sharing that he wanted to give back to the country that gave his family a better life. Canada begins its World Cup campaign against Belgium on November 23.
For his part, whether on or off the pitch, Davies is keen to continue supporting the work of UNHCR and harnessing the power of sport to help those forced to flee to build a better future.
“I hope I can continue to use my voice and experiences to make a difference for people forced to flee. I hope to show that if you give refugees opportunities, they can contribute positively and help society.”