The Sport for Refugees Coalition explores the innovative role of sports in advancing refugee self-reliance at the first High-Level Officials Meeting

The Sport for Refugees Coalition explores the innovative role of sports in advancing refugee self-reliance at the first High-Level Officials Meeting

Global Winner, UNHCR 2021 Youth With Refugees Art Contest - Illustration of people playing various sports wearing different country flags

Global Winner, UNHCR 2021 Youth With Refugees Art Contest

The Sport for Refugees Coalition played an active role at the first High-Level Officials Meeting (HLOM), hosted by UNHCR. The event was an opportunity for the Coalition to strengthen its commitment to improving lives through sports and explore how sports could serve as an effective medium in advancing refugee self-reliance.

The Sport for Refugees Coalition is co-led by the Olympic Refuge Foundation, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the SCORT Foundation. It consists of more than 80 entities from governments, to National Olympic Committees, International Sports Federations, clubs, associations, and civil society organizations. All these entities came together in 2019, pledging to use sports to improve the lives of refugees.

Advancing Refugee Self-reliance through sports

The advance side event held on December 13th explored how sport is an effective medium for strengthening and advancing refugees’ self-reliance, one of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees. The panel discussion, moderated by journalist Henry Bonsu, gave four speakers the opportunity to share their experience in using sport in the areas of education, livelihoods, local integration, and protection.

Screenshot of side event panel speakers on Zoom


Dr. Mary Joy Pigozzi, Executive Director of Educate A Child, explained how sport and physical education is critical to their holistic approach to education. "Children have to be well and healthy to learn. Well and healthy children learn better. And physical activity is certainly a part of that. Build child‑friendly spaces, and have physical activity involved in the education programme as a way, particularly, to help children deal with psychosocial distress. – to help them deal with the social and psycho-social questions and concerns they might have, and to [help them] build trust again."

Ms. Karin Heri, Head of Sustainability and Social Responsibility at Malmö FF, underlined the strong will within Malmö FF to take responsibility and be part of the solution. Malmö FF pledged to increase employment opportunities for refugees by committing to employ 50 refugees in their Food & Beverage and Service Organization by 2023. Highlighting how a professional football club can positively impact refugees’ opportunities, Heri said, "If you can be part of solving a problem and giving someone an opportunity to welcome them into this Swedish labour market, we should do so."

Heri acknowledged that their initiatives do not come without challenges, such as documentation. She highlighted how strong partnerships with the municipality, state, and other organizations that are experts on the topic help address the issue. Behind it all is the recognition that everyone can contribute. "Even something that is a small thing for you can be big for someone else."

Mr. Emre Kaçar, Deputy Director General of the Turkish Ministry of Youth and Sport, explained that Turkey, as one of the largest refugee hosting countries, has a strong commitment to integration. “We don’t want them to be a lost generation”, he stressed, drawing attention to the high number of refugee children in Turkey. The Ministry’s programme activities focus on using sport to support local integration. "Sport is a universal language. It works very well between host and refugee children." Whilst schooling is very important, he noted that it is not enough, as local and refugee children often sit apart, whereas the interaction is different during after-school sports. "They become team members, friends, even brothers and sisters."

Mr. Parfait Hakizimana, of the Refugee Paralympic Team in Tokyo, shared his experience of how sport can transform lives, and be key in protection activities. He fled Burundi in 2015 and opened a Taekwondo school in a Rwandan refugee camp where he trains children. He is convinced of the benefits sport offers, especially when it comes to the mental well-being and inclusion of children. Talking about Taekwondo, he noted, "…It is like belonging to a family. It helps the kids have a spirit, have a feeling to belong to a team…to have some hope to stay calm, to overcome difficulties…helps them behave well in society."

He stressed that sport was also key for his own well-being: "On a personal level, sport has helped me to be confident, to really control my emotions…When I participate in my sport, I feel calm. I feel happy. I feel that I can really do things, as well." He spoke of how sport has also helped him strengthen his role with his community, transmit values, create hope, and as a coach, offer new opportunities to children to take part in events.

Impact of sport in uplifting the spirit and hopes of refugees at Mahama refugee camp
© UNHCR/Anthony Karumba - Rwanda. Impact of sport in uplifting the spirit and hopes of refugees at Mahama refugee camp

Strengthening commitment at the plenary session of the HLOM

Addressing the High-Level Officials Meeting, Mr. Marc-Andre Buchwalder, CEO of the SCORT Foundation and representing the Coalition, explained that, despite the many challenges faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increased desire and appreciation for all that sport and physical activity stand for in responding to refugee needs and well-being. The Coalition reiterated its commitment to transform its three pledges into impactful action:

  • To promote and ensure access for all refugees, without distinction of any kind, to safe and inclusive sporting facilities.
  • To increase availability and access to organized sports and sport-based initiatives for refugee and hosting communities, actively considering age, gender, ability, and other diversity needs.
  • To promote and facilitate equal access to and participation of refugees in sporting events and competitions at all levels.

"Moving forward, the Coalition will seek to harness opportunities to establish cross-sectoral partnerships beyond the traditional sports organization" concluded Buchwalder.

"Partnerships that can unlock new resources, promote greater collaboration, help overcome obstacles and enable more refugees to get access to and benefit from sport. This could be reflected in the form of joint pledges or new pledges at the next GRF in 2023."