Integration of Refugees Through Sport Networking Platform kicks off at online conference

Posted June 24, 2020

Photo: Shutterstock

The official partner kick-off meeting of the Integration of Refugees Trough Sport (IRTS) Networking Platform took place during an online conference on 23 June 2020, where 80 participants from 60 organisations in 27 countries gathered for the first time to form the network.

The online platform currently includes 46 stakeholders and 10 partner institutions working in the field of refugee integration and inclusion through sport, including the UNHCR, whose representatives Nicolas Brass and Nick Sore presented at the conference. There are 3 key aims of the IRTS Networking Platform: to share experience/knowledge, to learn from each other and find new partners for future projects.

The conference started with an opening speech from ISCA President Mogens Kirkeby. While expressing his thanks to the participants for offering their expertise, he stated that we all aspire to a life where nobody is a refugee, but we have not yet created such a world. Taking into consideration the reality, he mentioned that sport cannot reduce the number of people who need to take refuge, but that these types of actions can increase life quality of people who become refugees. He also underlined that the IRTS Networking Platform will be a “power-enhancing platform” for the participating organisations.

“You represent the change-makers, the doers from local, national and international organisations,” he said. “Together you can deliver better and more actions in the field of Integration of Refugees Through Sport.”

Yves Le Lostecque from the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission also participated in the kick-off meeting and expressed how happy he was with the launch of this networking platform.

“This is something that the European Commission, they have been considering for the past few years. We are very happy that this platform and this network will become a reality,” he said. “[The IRTS Networking Platform] is a very important initiative because the efforts will continue. Thanks to you, we will have stronger efforts of coordination in the coming years.”

Le Lostecque also gave the good news that the budget for youth and sports will increase significantly during the next Erasmus+ Programme (2021-2027).

"Partnership is the cornerstone of our work because alone, we cannot achieve what we want."

The meeting welcomed two experts from UNHCR: Nicolas Brass, Senior External Engagement Coordinator, Bureau for Europe, and Nick Sore, Senior Refugee Sports Coordinator, Division of External Relations. They gave a presentation on the displacement situation in Europe from 2015 to today. They defined sport as a positive tool for peaceful coexistence and highlighted the importance of the mentoring and the learning programs offered by the IRTS Networking platform in the understanding, transferring experience, gaining knowledge and partnership.

“Sport is fun and returns normalcy in the lives of people who have faced huge adversity,” Sore said.

Brass concluded by saying that the network had great potential value to UNHCR’s work by connecting them with people working in so many partners and communities around Europe: “Partnership is the cornerstone of our work because alone we cannot achieve what we want.”

As the last speaker of the first session, Daniela Conti from UISP International, Italy, made her presentation on "How stakeholders and partners located across Europe can create and deliver solutions to an international challenge by building and empowering the IRTS Network". She stated that sport is not a magic box that can solve all the problems of refugees, but we have a fantastic role in this platform to cooperate with other organisations. She suggested to unite solutions at the national, European and international levels in the fields of exchange of good practice, campaigning and advocacy.

“A sports organisation can be the spider in the middle of a big web [of stakeholders],” she said.

What is the IRTS Networking Platform?

In the second part of the meeting, the ISCA team introduced the 4 pillars of the IRTS Networking Platform: Mentoring Programme, Events, Award Scheme, and Online Courses.

IRTS Mentoring Program aims at connecting individuals and organisations from the IRTS field through 2 rounds of 12-months mentorship. The objective of mentoring is to bring together less and more experienced individuals from the field to build an international network and build the capacity of the whole sector. The call for applications for mentees is open and the deadline for applying is the end of July 2020.

Regarding Events, 3 international conferences have been planned in order to gather stakeholders from the Integration of Refugees Through Sport Network over 3 years. For the Online Courses, ISCA’s online learning platform currently hosts a basic course with peer-to-peer advice for organisations and individuals who are working with refugees and asylum seekers through sport and physical activities. Three brand new courses will be launched in 2020-2022.

Finally, IRTS Awards is designed to evaluate, celebrate, and encourage good practices and highlight good initiatives.

"Sport helped me to integrate into society"

In the last part of the conference, Ali Noghandoost, who escaped persecution in his native Iran and arrived in Croatia where he received asylum status as well as a promising sporting future in the country, shared his experiences with us. He is an elite sportsman now in the taekwondo club Jastreb in Croatia, and is also a candidate for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

He explained his challenging journey, the difficulties he had in learning the local language, financial issues, and finally the process of his integration as being a taekwondo trainer.

When he was asked about the effect of the sport on his life, Ali Noghandoost said that it facilitated his integration to the society, although there are many people who struggle with depression and difficulties in the refugee camps, he did not give up and used his dedication to his sport as a way forward.

The IRTS Networking Platform partners will meet again in November at a conference planned in Copenhagen, which will combine in-person and online opportunities to attend.

Visit the new IRTS Networking Platform website

By Hilal Erkoca, ISCA
Photo: Shutterstock