Articles & Publications

Sport and an active society without walls. Social inclusion of refugees through sport and physical activity

September 18, 2019
Sport Diplomacy

“Everyone understood that refugees needed education. But many people questioned their participation in sport while there were more urgent, vital issues and services to be provided by a state institution. ‘Isn’t sport a luxury for someone with more substantial, basic needs?’

Let us skip the often mentioned and generally accepted health and psychosocial benefits that sport and physical activity offer for all who regularly participate, and look at some additional positive effects for refugees and the hosting societies: Individual gains: refugees can learn how to manage stress efficiently and to release their emotions (aggressions, frustrations, etc.) safely. Sports teach self-control and self-discipline, enhance life quality and wellbeing and create a sense of personal identity.

Sport provides a positive way to spend free time – as refugees often lack positive outlets for their energy and positive environments where they can enjoy themselves and have fun. In addition, sport, leisure and play can have restorative and healing qualities for the psychological rehabilitation of refugees (particularly unaccompachildren and teenagers) not only because play is therapeutic, but also because play is an inherent part of traditions and community and can create a sense of normalcy for people living in extraordinary situations.”“Social gains: refugees who participate in sports and physical activity tackle isolation, build social networks and create a sense of belonging. Sport offers them a fun alternative to inactivity, boredom, and, in more extreme cases, to filling in time in order to reduce the incidence of negative anti-social activities (e.g. substance abuse, delinquency, criminal activity, etc.).

Community gains: sport and physical activity function as a vehicle of communication between refugees and host communities as they provide an icebreaking effect. They are a non threatening way to bring people into direct contact with people from other groups and cultures and thereby work against racism and xenophobia. Sport and physical activity can provide structure as even the simplest sport activity is defined by some kind of framework or rules. Sport activities help young people learn to follow procedures and rules and to deal with authority.”

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