Soccer training for Paris suburb youths kicks off with distancing rules after virus break

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SAINT-DENIS, FRANCE (MAY 22, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

1. VARIOUS OF SOCCER YOUTH ACADEMY COACH, IDRISSA DIABIRA, PLACING PLASTIC HOOPS ON PITCH TO ENCOURAGE SOCIAL DISTANCING DURING TRAINING

2. VARIOUS OF PLAYERS TRAINING FOOTWORK ON HOOPS AND RUNNING

3. (SOUNDBITE) (French) SOCCER YOUTH ACADEMY COACH, IDRISSA DIABIRA, SAYING:

"With regard to COVID-19, it has changed, a lot has changed. We have to be careful with the distancing rules and the rules of hygiene, that's really important. I often tell them to pay attention, and the same for the exercises, one metre, two metres, before the next one can take off for the exercises. We always leave a little gap of time."

4. VARIOUS OF PLAYERS PASSING BALLS ON FIELD

5. PLAYER PULLING ON ANOTHER'S ARM

6. TRAINING MATCH IN PROGRESS

7. PLAYER BEING HELPED UP

8. MATCH IN PROGRESS

9. (SOUNDBITE) (French) SOCCER YOUTH ACADEMY COACH, IDRISSA DIABIRA, SAYING:

"It's really important that the youth can get out of their city a little, to see other places, to meet other people. It brings people together, so it's very good."

10. VARIOUS OF DIABIRA PLACING EXERCISE ROPES ON GROUND A METRE APART

11. VARIOUS OF TRAINING

12. (SOUNDBITE) (French) SOCCER YOUTH ACADEMY COACH, IDRISSA DIABIRA, SAYING:

"We can say that it (soccer) makes you forget about the illness. It makes you forget other things, and that's why it's very important to practise sports."

13. VARIOUS OF EXERCISES

14. (SOUNDBITE) (French) SOCCER YOUTH ACADEMY PLAYER, JAHID, 16, SAYING:

"Usually at home, we do a few muscular exercises, but we don't go out, and we don't play football. Idrissa is training the team, and so I'm starting to play a bit of football."

15. TRAINING IN PROGRESS

16. DIABIRA ENCOURAGING PLAYERS

17. (SOUNDBITE) (French) SOCCER YOUTH ACADEMY PLAYER, NATHAN KUMBI, 15, SAYING:

"It feels good, because we were getting fatter, and we're getting back in shape."

18. VARIOUS OF EXERCISES

19. DIABARA ASKING PLAYERS TO NOT STAY TOO CLOSE TO EACH OTHER

STORY: Soccer coach Idrissa Diabira placed yellow and blue hoops, each a metre apart, on a field in the Paris suburbs in an effort to promote social distancing as youth players readied to resume their training after weeks of hiatus amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The teenage players of the Urban Jeunesse Academy, based in one of Paris' less chic suburb towns of Saint-Denis, halted their training in March as the government instated a nationwide coronavirus lockdown that lasted for eight weeks.

Since free movement restrictions started being eased on May 11, the academy, which has more than 100 members, has been gradually resuming activity, training once every couple of days since May 12.

"With regard to COVID-19, a lot has changed," Diabira said. "We have to be careful with the distancing rules and the rules of hygiene, that's really important."

On Friday (May 22), a team of 10 members, the maximum number of players allowed by the prefecture provide safety guidelines are respected, gathered in the open-air field.

They practised footwork and passing exercises before playing a training match. When players got too close each, other Diabira cried out to instruct them to stay apart.

"It's really important that the youth can get out of their city a little, to see other places, to meet other people," Diabira said. "It brings people together, so it's very good."

France's banlieues - high-rise neighbourhoods that ring its cities and are heavily populated by families of immigrant descent - have for decades been flashpoints of anger of social and economic marginalisation and police violence.

Clashes between police and residents of some banlieues erupted during the lockdown, with fireworks and projectiles being launched at riot police.

Official data also show that the spike in mortality rates during the coronavirus outbreak has been markedly higher in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis, where Saint-Denis is located, than in the affluent capital on the other side of the ring-road.

COVID-19 has killed more than 28,000 in France since the start of the epidemic, although the death rate, along with the number of hospitalisations and intensive care cases, is slowing.

As the youths trained on Friday, many were happy to step back into the field.

"It feels good, because we were getting fatter, and we're getting back in shape," 15-year-old Nathan Kumbi said.

(Production: Yiming Woo)

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