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Poland's not so 'Bad' football club eyes inclusion

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Warsaw (AFP)

In a former working class district of Warsaw fans dressed in black cheer on the women's team of AKS Zly, a football club set up with unusual ambitions.

Rather than fighting for titles and trophies in a sport troubled too often by homophobia and racism, AKS Zly was founded to promote inclusion and oppose bigotry.

Zly means bad in Polish and the club's full name translates as the Bad Alternative Sports Club.

Strangely enough, the club whose code of conduct promotes fair play and bans violence manages to hold it's own in local competition.

There is an air of festivity at the stadium located between a basilica and an old brick industrial mill in the Szmulowizna neighbourhood of the once neglected Praga district.

"Go Bad girls!" yell fans of the club recently handed UEFA Best Grassroots Club award for demonstrating "that boundaries can be broken down thanks to football."

The opponents are greeted by a welcome chant for AKS Zly's home games.

"It's us, AKS the Bad!... We're Bad fans and we make Bad rhymes! Welcome!"

Hooligan from other teams have at times reacted by hurling insults, threats and sometimes projectiles.

But the AKS Zly women's captain Eliza Gorska-Tran prefers to overlook the negative.

"We'd really like to infect the others with our exceptional team and stadium atmosphere," she said.

The club was formed in 2015 by a handful of fans who love football but object to its sometimes racist and homophobic baggage.

"We're proud of the fact that we have two women on our team who are together and that the captain wears a rainbow armband," said Przemyslaw Fura, a club member and fan, referring to the symbol of the LGBT community, regularly disparaged by Poland's powerful Catholic Church and governing conservatives.

Club founder member Krzysztof Gorniak said that in Poland football often rhymes with money while fans face "politics and machismo in the stands."

"We no longer felt at home at those stadiums" marred by hooligans, racist slogans and homophobes, he told AFP.

- Thug to hero -

What impressed UEFA, European football's governing body, was the AKS Zly's inclusivity: anyone can join, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or fitness level.

"AKS Zly runs men's and women's teams. It organises free football classes for refugees, and also focuses on the inclusion of disabled players," UEFA said in a statement in September announcing the award.

"The club is run by members who work on a voluntary basis, and only the coaches are renumerated."

The club name comes from Polish writer Leopold Tyrmand's 1955 blockbuster novel "Zly", and refers to the hero of the story about a former thug turned anti-crime vigilante in post-war Warsaw.

"When we were starting out, every match began with a reading from the novel. We've read the whole thing," said Fura.

The club's slogan also comes from literature, this time Goethe's "Faust" on the theme of good and evil.

The founders formed the club over beers at a local bar and say they drew inspiration from British outfits AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester.

Both were formed by football fans reacting against "ultra-wealthy and capricious" owners of their favourite clubs, said Gorniak.

"We're an open and democratic club, something still rare in Poland where this kind of organisation disappeared with the war, communism and the post-1989 privatisations," he added.

There is no majority owner and every member has their say in how the club is run.

"Everyone involved has a single vote at the general meeting," said the club's president Karolina Szumska, a former rock band manager.

Members pay a monthly 20-zloty (4.5-euro, $5) fee and promise to abide by the code of conduct: "equality, tolerance, diversity, fair play, no swearing, no violence."

"We're labelled 'leftists', except we're not political. But if you're going to call someone leftist just because he's fair, then sure, you can call us that," Fura said, laughing.

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