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Sport and social inclusion, a perfect fit - Sport et citoyenneté

Sport and social inclusion, a perfect fit

Difficult journeys do not end upon arrival in safer places. Newcomers are still required to face social and professional inclusion. At the dawn of a new European Commission presidency, policies promoting inclusion have multiplied, counting among them, the previously underestimated levers, such as sport.

World migratory trends on the rise

“What we are seeing in these figures is further confirmation of a longer-term rising trend in the number of people needing safety from war, conflict and persecution.” While revealing their Global trends on forced displacement in 2018 report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ president (UNHCR) summed up what data has been telling us for years now. Migration flows are visibly increasing, the number of displaced persons across the world has almost doubled since 2012 and continues to rise with a historical peak in 2018 when the number of displaced populations reached 70.8 million. For the most part, these displaced populations are settling in neighbour countries, regardless of whether or not they’re developed countries with welcome policies. However, The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reveals that while the major hosting countries for displaced people aren’t in Europe, the region numerically remains one that welcomes the most international immigrants with 82 millions of people in 2017. Such displacements are the results of conflicts, unstable economic or political situations, but also and increasingly, the result of extreme weather events that push people flee in order to protect their lives. These extreme events are most likely to become more frequent due to global warming, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the World Meteorological Organization have stated, who both classify 2019 as the second hottest year ever recorder and belonging to the hottest decade ever.

Hence, populations exposed to these risks or displaced are also more likely to grow and move to safer places, including Europe where the real challenge remains to fully include these newcomers into our societies and into our solidarity networks.

An institutional mobilisation that is up to the challenge

Aware of the stakes and the need to welcome decently newcomers, European and international institutions have implemented assertive policies that promote social inclusion for international migrants. Indeed, the latter can bring real added value to Europe, first from an economic perspective in so far as their skills can be matched to those sought after on our labour markets, but further from the humane, intellectual, cultural, and of course sporting perspectives. European Commission president, Ursula Von Der Leyen has charged different Commissioners to work towards these goals through their respective fields of competences. Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson has already set the social inclusion of migrants as a priority of her mandate, as stated at the event last December. The event gathered a large number of policymakers from all municipalities and regions of Europe, who exchanged and learnt about different good practices to facilitate the local social inclusion of migrants via a variety of topics such as access to housing, healthcare, basic services and sport.

Commission of Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, has been tasked with redesigning Europe’s refugee resettlement system. The current Dublin Regulation tasks the first country of arrival with the responsibility of examining the asylum request. This system has consequently earned much criticism from both nations, who due to their geographical location are burdened with such higher numbers (Italy and Greece) they are unable to offer decent conditions to newcomers, but also from civil society, with organisations such as La Cimade who condemn the invisibilisation of the concerned individuals’ choices and their dehumanization during this process.

M. Schinas has been entrusted to conceptualise a more appropriate system for both states and newcomers, while also coordinating the work provided in sight of social inclusion- especially those utilising the levers of culture and sport. Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, is further responsible of fulfilling this task through sport thanks to an Erasmus + Programme with a reinforced budget.

The integration of refugees through sport represents a cross-cutting mission bearing critical human implications that sport institutions are also tackling. Working hand in hand since 1994, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and UNHCR created the Olympic Refugee Foundation in 2017, in sight of providing sport activities to migrants and of financing projects for them. Following this collaboration, in January 2020 the IOC awarded the UNHCR with the Olympic Cup for its work in favour of the integration of refugees through sport for disseminating Olympic values across the world. IOC President Thomas Bach said on this occasion ‘UNHCR shares our conviction that sport is a force for good in the world. For children and young people uprooted by war or persecution, sport is much more than a leisure activity. It is an opportunity to be included and protected – a chance to heal, develop and grow”

The involvement of institutional sport actors materialised itself for the first time in 2016 when a team of refugees competed in Rio Olympics under the Olympic flag. This inspiring initiative has been warmly welcomed and will be repeated in the Tokyo Games.

Social inclusion through sport, a key value for Sport and Citizenship

In the context of this growing trend of migratory movements, and of institutional reactions to this phenomenon, Sport and Citizenship has positioned itself as a dynamic player on the European scene, aware of the issues at stake and a leader of initiatives that promote the social inclusion of migrants and refugees in Europe through sport. We regularly highlight these issues, most recently through our publication “Sport et Inclusion” but also through European projects. The FIRE (Football Including REfugees) project, funded by the Erasmus+ programme, promotes and supports inspiring initiatives from all over Europe, fostering the social inclusion of migrants and refugees in local communities through the practice of football. These sporting activities, which aim to create social links, benefit both local communities, which are enriched by the diversity, talents and opportunities they bring, as well as a boost to cohesion; and the direct beneficiaries of these initiatives, who acquire a variety of skills through football. These include increased sociability, enhanced language skills, adaptation to a multicultural environment and self-confidence, all of which contribute to their emancipation.

FIRE’s success is directly correlated to our current context that requires an increase in initiatives enabling social inclusion and access to the benefits of sport and physical activity. It encourages Sport and Citizenship to continue this path and to carry out new initiatives that will honour the values of sport, its ability to conceal differences and to bring people together. FIRE contributes to Sport and Citizenship‘s continuous work to help build more cohesive societies that offer more solidarity to newcomers.

Sport and social inclusion have thus formed a winning team over the last few years, leading many stakeholders to believe in it and invest in it, both financially and politically. As current trends on migration do not point to a future decline in arrivals, Sport and Citizenship will continue to work to give greater recognition to the benefits of sport as a vector of social inclusion while continuing to act tangibly through initiatives such as FIRE.


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