Despite the increasing number of initiatives all over the world, the current situation highlights the lack of coordination between stakeholders.
The planet’s population is growing day after day and will reach more than 8.6 billion of inhabitants in 2030. In the same time, populations from all over the world are forced to move and flee their countries. These displacements caused by conflicts, civil wars, and climate change are presenting challenges of unprecedented urgency and resource-demand for governments and local authorities. Transnational movement has occurred for decades and for a myriad of reasons and incentives. The challenge today is providing the institutions and opportunities for refugees and displaced people to integrate into new communities. The time for innovative thinking about facilities to include refugees positively is now, as the 2018 Global Peace Index has reported that for the first time in modern history, refugees now make up nearly 1% of the global population.
Sport can be leveraged as a soft power tool for promoting peaceful relations and easing conflicts. On a personal level, equipping someone with competencies and skills empowers them with confidence. On a team level, experiences of camaraderie and belonging contributes to peaceful relationships and could also benefit displaced people through language acquisition and cultural competency in social settings. On an economic level, sports can be very cost-effective considering the impact they have. On the world stage, incorporating refugees in sport is a global advertisement for the power of sport in society, and also for the human potential of refugees so often misrepresented.
In 1993, the United Nations recognised sport as a tool for social development and peace. Its role has been linked with the Olympic Movement role to build a peaceful and better world by educating the youth through sport and culture with grassroots initiatives. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been working with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on projects related to migrations for many years. Media coverage of some of refugee team has helped to humanise the experience of refugees and has displayed their potential and talents on the world stage. Yusra Mardini was awarded screen time for winning a 100m butterfly heat against four other swimmers at the Rio Olympics. However, what made the most headlines was her life-saving three and a half hour swim to save everyone on her boat escaping Syrian conflict years before. Yiech Pur Biel was training barefoot in a refugee camp in Kenya before competing in the 800m run at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Biel’s training experience is almost unparalleled, but his commitment to a cause is shared with billions of people around the world. Consequently, the refugee experience is given a powerful human face amidst the popular rhetoric.
The International Olympic Committee developed the Olympic refugee foundation in partnership with the UNHCR in 2017. The foundation aims to “create safe, basic and accessible sports facilities in areas where there are refugees, a displaced migrant population and internally displaced people.” The “Become the Light” program launched in the beginning of the Pyeongchang Olympic Games. The project is installing solar panelled lighting to the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda, assisting over 55,000 refugees to assist them with work and play.
“As an Olympian, I truly believe athletes have a crucial role to play to inspire the next generation, especially those who share a passion for sport, as sport can unite the world, breaking down barriers and having a positive impact on society,”
-Angela Ruggiero, Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission.
There is an increasing number of initiatives around the world that aim to respond effectively to the influx of refugees in a social setting. However, some initiatives are reaching blockades in the implementation stages. In Europe, the European Commission has called for proposals for inclusive sports programs and tenders each year since 2016. While the initiative is encouraging, several of the projects have already finished their term with no renewal due to a lack of financial resources.
One of the most successful European sports projects is the ASPIRE initiative. Involving different partners within various levels of the Greek government, some refugees associations (for instance Minor Ndako) and some sport bodies as the Swedish Sport Confederation, the project embraces an interesting diversity of stakeholders. It aims to create a training module for sport structures in order to involve more refugees into the field of sport. They aim to be inclusive of those who are otherwise at risk of exclusion. This training module will allow the clubs and organisations to increase their inclusion for all within adapted exercises and best practices. Because the ASPIRE program has only existed for only one full year of its three year programme, it is too soon to make conclusive evaluations of its success in facilitating the access of refugees to social services.
Nonetheless, by the end of 2019 the ASPIRE program could serve as a benchmark and as a pioneer for future refugee-inclusion services. ASPIRE, with its three-year programme plan, could be the substantial showcase of the cost-effective nature of sport as an avenue for refugee inclusion and social cohesion.
This article was contributed by an IEP Peace Ambassador through Rotary International.