Sporting world makes strides for refugees

Sports & cultural activities

Sporting world makes strides for refugees

15 December 2020

As the world endures the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the multiple benefits of sport to individuals and society have become more evident than ever. Sport and physical activity remain key tools in overcoming the difficulties of the pandemic, by providing opportunities to build resilience, boost mental health and offer hope, in particular to forcibly displaced people who have experienced and continue to experience conflict and prolonged uncertainty. While it has been a challenge for many sporting organisations to deliver as usual, the sporting world has adapted and innovated to address the challenges and evolving needs in a new socially distanced world.

Last December at the first Global Refugee Forum, as part of a movement spurred by  UNHCR, the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Refuge Foundation, more than 80 entities – from grassroots clubs and civil society organisations, to UN Member States and national and international sporting federations - came together to renew and expand their commitment to building a better world for refugees through sport. This broad Coalition agreed to support three “chapeau” pledges - to promote and ensure equal access for all refugees to 1.) safe and inclusive sporting facilities; 2). organized sports and sport-based initiatives; and 3). participate in sporting events and competitions at all levels.

On the first anniversary of the Forum, we celebrate the progress of the Coalition members in their dedication and work toward their pledges on sports – at this challenging time. The featured organizations below provide just a few examples of how the Coalition members are transforming their pledges into concrete and impactful activities that benefit displaced and host communities alike.

International Olympic Committee

In close collaboration with all the members of the Olympic Movement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been mobilized to deliver on the pledges and ensuring access to sport for all refugees. The global COVID-19 pandemic has not altered this commitment. In 2020, the IOC has continued to support the 51 Refugee Athletes Scholarship, helping them train with the aim of qualifying for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, but also to continue their sporting career and build their future. 

"In such an uncertain moment, the extension of the scholarship has been a real relief to me. I could continue focusing on my training and studying feeling that I was still supported. Sport is central in my life balance. It has the power to help grow not only in sport but in all aspects of life", says Eyad Masoud.

Man in swimming pool

The 25-year-old swimmer had to flee Syria because of the conflict. With his family, he first reached Saudi Arabia and later ended up in New Zealand, where he claimed refugee status. Eyad explains how the support grants can help refugees get through the uncertain times:

"War, disease, social restrictions, and poverty often exclude refugees from the benefits of participation in sport. Such scholarships give hope, lift all of us up and give us strength to chase our dreams. Our role is to give it all but also to inspire young refugees and show them that anything is possible".

In the meantime, the IOC has continued its advocacy efforts for refugee athletes’ participation in international competitions organized by International Sports Federations (IFs) and by supporting the review of IFs’ statutes to allow refugee participation.

Olympic Refuge Foundation

With programmes in six countries reaching up to 200,000 young people, the Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF) places sport at the centre of its activities to support the inclusion and protection of young people affected by displacement.  In 2020 the ORF unlocked USD 500,000 to support four innovative programmes responding to COVID-19 in Jordan and Uganda. The mental health and resilience of young refugees there has been put under severe strain as a result of strict lockdown policies with a rise in cases of gender-based violence reported as well. “Game Connect” was launched in Uganda in August, aiming to support the mental health and psychosocial well-being of young refugees and their host communities. “Refugees are glad that someone is remembering them at such a difficult time”, said Karen Mukiibi, Deputy Executive Director of “Youth Sport Uganda” recently. The local NGO is delivering the programme, alongside international NGOs “AVSI Foundation” and “Right to Play”, the Uganda Olympic Committee, and UNHCR.

International Table Tennis Federation Foundation

The International Table Tennis Federation Foundation (ITTF Foundation) has been working with refugees in camps, settlements, and host communities. As pledged at the Forum, they have continued their programmes in Jordan’s Za'atari camp since 2018 and Azraq refugee camps from 2019, using the sport to offer a new identity, that of a table tennis player, while also training refugees to become official coaches. It is a fun, social means for refugees to start building new ties within their community and have new aspirations. The focus is not on performance, but rather togetherness and dignity. To date, more than 146 young people have been exposed to the programme; on average there are 84 regular participants. The sessions have been on standby due to the lock down since March however, coaches have been participating in weekly online sessions and it is anticipated that soon the children will be joining these online sessions too.

girls in a circle holding table tennis rackets

International Sport and Culture Association

The International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA) has gathered sport and physical activity organisations for 25 years. As pledged during the Forum and supported by the European Commission, in June 2020 ISCA launched the ‘Integration of Refugees Through Sports (IRTS) Network Platform’ to bring together the ideas and resources of organisations and professionals to improve the lives of those forcibly displaced through sport. The platform offers in-person and online opportunities to connect, work together in a mentor-mentee professional development programme and learn together to promote capacity building of practitioners. Further, the IRTS Network connects sport and humanitarian organisations to inspire cross-sector work on integration of refugees through the Move BEYOND project. ISCA hopes to become a hub that keeps building on initiatives and to grow the network in the future.

Cricket Without Boundaries

Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB) is a sport for development volunteer led organisation, using cricket to deliver health and social messaging to empower communities. CWB teamed up with Right to Play (RTP) who use play-based learning, to improve the quality of education and social cohesion for vulnerable youth, including refugees in Jordan. In 2019, as part of RTP’s ‘Strengthening Our Schools’ programme, the CWB team ran a workshop on integrated learning using cricket. From December 2019 to March 2020, skills learned have been implemented to promote cohesion in schools in Jordan’s refugee host communities of Amman, Zarqa and Jordan Valley, using play and sport as a tool to reduce conflict and social tension and promote inclusion. Over 5,000 children participated, of which over half were girls. CWB has also continued to deliver through adaptative methods during the COVID-19 pandemic utilizing online social media platforms to set up virtual cricket challenges and host weekly coaching sessions.

Cricket-Right to play1

Turkish Olympic Committee

The Turkish Olympic Committee’s (TOC) Active Kids Sport Schools Project aims to unite and empower young people through sport. Building off the successful launch of a sports school for over 500 local children and Syrian refugees in Gaziantep in 2017, the project was expanded to the Kırıkhan district of the Hatay city in November 2019 in cooperation with the local municipality and has had a strong emphasis on the integration of more than 300 local children and Syrian refugees. Earlier this year the TOC hosted an event for over 500 children in Gaziantep where children took part in a full day of sports activities with Turkish Olympian and national athletes and received new sportswear. The TOC will continue to work towards their commitment to the Global Refugee Forum pledges to increase access to gender-equal and secure sport for refugees, improve social cohesion within their new communities, and promote the unifying power of sport and its ability to enhance physical and mental well-being.

To learn more about the Coalition of sport organizations, please see here.


One year on from the Global Refugee Forum