For people who have been forced from their homes by war or persecution, sports can be much more than a leisure activity. To explore and celebrate the transformative power of sports in the lives of refugees and other displaced communities, a “Week of Action” was launched on 21 September 2020.
This initiative is part of a new partnership between UNHCR and Sportanddev.org, an online platform dedicated to championing the role of sports in development. Their goal: share information, build networks and highlight the many ways that sports organizations are already engaged in the overall response to displacement.
Sportanddev is also a member of the growing Sports Coalition initiated by UNHCR, the Olympic Refugee Foundation and International Olympic Committee (IOC). At the first ever Global Refugee Forum in December 2019, Coalition members pledged to:
Increase availability and access to organized sports and sports-based initiatives for refugee and hosting communities, actively considering age, gender, ability, and other diversity needs.
Promote and facilitate equal access to and participation of refugees in sporting events and competitions at all levels.
A “Week of Action on Refugees and Sports” will take place online and on the Sportanddev platform, to showcase and share good practice and innovation. This will include a webinar, a Twitter live event, and the publication of more than 30 articles on refugees and sports.
The calendar for the Week of Action is as follows:
Monday 21 September: Opening article about the new refugees and sports toolkit section on the website. This walked readers through the section, and touched on the forthcoming activities of the week. Monday 21 also saw a webinar on the theme of “The role of sport in protecting and ensuring the rights of refugees”.
Tuesday 22 and Wednesday 23 September: Articles received through the website and key messages will be shared on social media, and there will be a preview of the Twitter Q&A.
Thursday 24 September: Twitter Q&A with JoJo Ferris Head of the Olympic Refuge Foundation.
Friday 25 September: Follow-up on the Twitter Q&A and further sharing of articles received and key messages + preview to the Webinar.
Sports are becoming increasingly visible as a tool for social change. The Global Compact on Refugees recognizes “the important role of sports […] in social development, inclusion, cohesion, and well-being, particularly for refugee children (both boys and girls), adolescents and youth, as well as older persons and persons with disabilities” highlighting the importance of partnerships in this area. The Compact also highlights the role of sports in relation to health and fostering good relations and peaceful coexistence.
The story of UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Yiech Pur Biel, an Olympic athlete originally from South Sudan, illustrates how sports can positively impact lives. Pur fled war at a young age and started training in the Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, to become a track athlete. He eventually competed in the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 as part of the first International Olympic Committee’s Refugee Olympic Team. Pur’s appointment as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador this year illustrates not only the importance of sports but also of inclusion: refugees must have a seat at the table. Find out more about Yiech Pur Biel on his page.