Sport and humanitarian partnerships are a win-win-win for refugee inclusion – but where should you start?

By Rachel Payne, ISCA

Posted June 18, 2020
18 nuggets of peer-to-peer advice in new report

If you work for a community sport organisation and want to reach out to and include refugees in your activities, you will most likely need to get in touch with a local humanitarian organisation to help you get started. What should you do next? The EU-supported MOVE Beyond project partners spoke to sport and non-sport stakeholders, including refugees working in the field, to gather perspectives on the barriers to working together and advice on how to overcome them. The results are published in a new report.

The report, ‘Barriers and future opportunities for sport and non-sport organisations to use sport and physical activities for inclusion of refugees’, is the first output of the MOVE Beyond project, which is piloting initiatives run by sport and non-sport partnerships.

The project is led by the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA) and the pilot initiative partners include humanitarian organisations the Danish Red Cross, Save the Children Sweden, ATAS in Italy, SPARC and Devon and Cornwall Refugee Support in the UK, and sport organisations DGI in Denmark, RF-SISU Västra Götaland in Sweden, UISP Trentino in Italy and StreetGames in the UK.

DEMOS in Belgium led the report, which is being followed by focus groups with refugees, coordinated by the University of Copenhagen. DEMOS gathered responses from semi-structured interviews with 24 respondents and an online questionnaire, which had 41 respondents.

A quarter of the stakeholders surveyed said their governments have policies to include sport in refugee inclusion. But none had policies to stimulate partnership building between sport and non-sport actors.

Breaking out of “fixed policy domains”, where wellbeing in relation to leisure is rarely high on the agenda, and changing government policies and attitudes on migration were mentioned by the humanitarian organisations as being the most difficult challenges to establishing collaborations.

“Policies are being implemented that are discouraging organisations and individuals who work with or help refugees,” one said in their interview.

However, the report finds that the benefits of working together are clearly evident and that differences between sport and non-sport organisations are seen as an advantage rather than a hindrance.

The sport organisations ranked learning from the expertise and knowledge of the non-sport organisation and gaining access to the refugees and a broader support network as the top two benefits of collaborating. The non-sport organisations, on the other hand, said that the main benefit of working with sport organisations was that it allowed them provide leisure activities for refugees where they would normally lack the resources and capacity to organise sporting activities themselves.

Collaboration is a win-win for both parties, one respondent points out: “As an organisation trying to work with refugees on all fronts you may end up moving around on the same spot, but when you collaborate with others you may move forward.”

But finding an organisation to collaborate with could be the first challenge you encounter. The stakeholders, particularly from sport organisations, said the key is “finding the right person within an organisation to explore and develop the collaboration” who shares the same “ambition and drive” as you do.

When you establish the partnership, the next challenge is to see sport as “more than sport” to engage your target group – to take the competitive and technical aspects out and put the emphasis on social activities and community outreach.

Removing barriers to refugees’ participation can also mean removing the cost to participate, facilitating transport to the activity, putting the focus on creating a fun and welcoming environment, talking to the refugees and understanding their needs, and abandoning top-down approaches – working with refugees rather than for them is also a win-win (or a win-win-win) approach, the stakeholders note.

The report concludes with 18 nuggets of peer-to-peer advice for sport and non-sport organisations to consider when entering into a partnership – and 4 tips for policy-makers to stimulate cross-sector collaboration and “make more space for inclusive organisations and services”.

Read the full report here to discover the:

  • Benefits of providing sport to refugees
  • Barriers and challenges to overcome
  • Benefits of collaborating
  • Challenges foreseen in collaboration
  • And what to aim for

Read the full report here

The MOVE Beyond project is co-funded by the European Commission under the Erasmus+ Collaborative Partnerships in Sport programme. Find out more about the project on the Integration of Refugees Through Sport Platform. The project is led by the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA).