Austrian luge race aims to speed up integration of African migrants

Saadam Jamal, representing Somalia, approaches the finish line during the African Wintersports Cup, an integration project luge race with participants originating from 15 countries, in Kleinarl, Austria, January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Competitors prepare for the African Wintersports Cup, an integration project luge race with participants originating from 15 countries, in Kleinarl, Austria, January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Competitors approach the finish line during the African Wintersports Cup, an integration project luge race with participants originating from 15 countries, in Kleinarl, Austria, January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Competitors slide down a road during a trial run for the African Wintersports Cup, an integration project luge race with participants originating from 15 countries, in Kleinarl, Austria, January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Competitors prepare for the African Wintersports Cup, an integration project luge race with participants originating from 15 countries, in Kleinarl, Austria, January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Competitors prepare for the African Wintersports Cup, an integration project luge race with participants originating from 15 countries, in Kleinarl, Austria, January 20, 2018. Picture taken January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

KLEINARL, Austria (Reuters) - The chilly conditions on an Austrian mountainside belied the warm reception given to people from 15 African countries who took part in an annual luge race aimed at helping migrants integrate into European society.

The event over the weekend, dubbed the African Winter Sports Cup, is a luge race contested by people with little or no experience of winter sports. Its aim, over the six years it has been held, is to promote social integration through sport, organizers said.

The countries represented included Nigeria, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. Some of the people taking part had come to Europe as asylum seekers while others were born on the continent.

"We are all human, we have differences, but the more (we have in) common, the more we share, the more common hobbies we find, the less important the differences might be," organizer Erwin Himmelbauer told Reuters.

The race, held on a course 2km long which took most of the 45 competitors less than five minutes to complete, is more focused on fun than athletic skill - something the participants seemed to appreciate.

"This is fantastic," said Omad Suleiman, originally from Darfur, who traveled to the event from Norway where he has been living since 2014.

"I think it is important for us and for European people when we can live together."

(Reporting by Heinz-Peter Bader and Mark Hanrahan,; Writing by Mark Hanrahan in London, editing by Ed Osmond)

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