ROME (Reuters) - In a sign of how Europe's migration debate is resounding across sport as well as politics, Italian soccer captain Gianluigi Buffon has called for a new approach to help the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing to the continent to escape war or poverty.
"Now is the time to really try to change direction and give a future to these people that see us, see Europe, as their dream," the goalkeeper told a news conference in Palermo, Sicily, an island to which many migrants and refugees are taken after being rescued in the Mediterranean.
"Apart from the issue of the Syrians, this has been going on for ages and in my opinion we have never faced up to it, we have always endured it."
Italy, whose most southerly island, Lampedusa, is 110 km from Tunisia, has long called for help in handling the flood of people seeking a better life in Europe. Thousands arriving in other parts of the continent have prompted a crisis review of European Union policy.
Last weekend German soccer fans displayed 'Refugees welcome' banners at grounds throughout the Bundesliga, and one leading club, Borussia Dortmund, invited 220 refugees to watch a match.
Real Madrid, the world's richest soccer club, has pledged one million euros (S$1.6 million) to aid refugees taken in by Spain, and said it will make some of its infrastructure and sports goods available to a commission that organises the reception of refugees.