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RESPONSIBALL Forum on Sport and Refugees

Many have said that how we react to the challenge of accommodating and integrating refugees and other displaced people will define our generation. It’s our time now to stand up and be counted.

Last week we brought together a number of key players in the field of sport and refugees with the objective to share good practices, discuss challenges and define future cooperation in the area of sport and refugees.

This article represents an effort to share with you a slice of the information that was conveyed at last week’s RESPONSIBALL Forum on Sport and Refugees in Lausanne.


First, a word of thanks

A big thank you to the hosts, the University of Lausanne and AISTS, and the partners, including the City of Lausanne, the Football Unites Us project, UEFA, sportfordevelopment.org, and Wiz Team for helping SchweryCade to realise this event.

Equally as important, thanks also to those who made the day so enjoyable and productive: the participants. They came from all four corners of the sports world, local and international humanitarian organsiations, private organisations, media, academic institutions, as well as those with a refugee background who so bravely brought the topic to life by sharing their stories with us.

“It was great to have that many specialists of the topic of sport and refugees in Lausanne! I really enjoyed taking part in this event.” Matthieu Bulliard, International Organization for Migration Switzerland and Happy Foot



Welcome speeches by Oscar Tosato, Director of Sport and Social Cohesion at the City of Lausanne and François Bussy, Vice Rector of University of Lausanne served to demonstrate the importance of support from society actors for initiatives such as the Forum to further the work of all in the sector.


Setting the scene

To set the context for the Forum, Rolf Schwery of SchweryCade reminded us that, in 2017, 52% of the world’s 25.4 million refugees were children – under 18 years of age.

It was also underlined by a few of our speakers that the rhetoric around a “refugee crisis” in Europe was unfounded, considering that only 15% of that total number of refugees move to ‘developed countries’. And especially when you consider that, from January to August 2015 one million refugees made their way across the Mediterranean to Europe, whereas during the same time in 2018 that number was down significantly to 60,000.

The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developments sets forth the internationally accepted role that sport can play as an enable of sustainable development (Article 37) through:

  • Contribution to the realisation of development and peace
  • Promotion of tolerance and respect
  • Empowerment of women / young people / individuals / communities
  • Contribution to health, education and social inclusion

The question was posed a few times during the day as to whether there is a “crisis of leadership” in this field. Currently there appears to be ‘ownership’ of the topic of sport and refugees but a lack of organisations leading by example and being ready to commit to moving the issue forward.


Forum Ambassadors

Three Forum Ambassadors gave detailed and emotional accounts of their journeys to their adopted countries. Despite the tragic journey that lay behind him, Mamadi Camara recalled that he just wanted to play sport. And through the connections he made through football he was able to build a life here in Switzerland. Mamadi’s focus now is to develop a football programme back in Guinea, his country of origin, to educate youth and encourage them not to leave, due to the dangers involved in making the journey to Europe.

Edmar Abdoelaev told of his journey from Chechnya to the Netherlands, via Germany, and explained how crucial it was to his own personal development that there were a number of sport options available at the reception centres he stayed in in Germany and the Netherlands, and how playing sport helped to rid him of the “negative energy” that had built up inside of him.

Finally, Emran Naderi, a 16 year old who left Pakistan at the age of 13, stood in front of the 100-strong audience speaking English – one of the seven languages he has mastered – explaining how difficult it has been to come to terms with the fact that had to grow up so quickly after having to leave his parents behind. His involvement in volleyball has given him some refuge from these responsibilities that have been forced upon him.


From theory…  

Nick Sore from the UNHCR presented ‘Ten Challenges for Refugee Young People’, a summary of the most important ten challenges to surface from the experiences of young refugees. Alongside this are seven solutions or ‘core actions’, suggested by the same survey group suggested. Among them was ‘Recognise, utilise, and develop refugee youth capacities and skills’ – a common recommendation that arose during the day.

Nick also made reference to Article 44 of the Global Compact on Refugees, in which Sport is recognised for its role 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, partnerships will be pursued to increase access to sporting and cultural facilities and activities in refugee-hosting areas.”

Patrice Cholley from the IOC spoke about the importance of using sport as a “refuge” in sport, and therefore the consequent use of sport as a tool for the protection of refugees – minimising harm and maximising social impact.

The Sport for Protection toolkit was presented by Fleure Maricaux and is a product of the combined efforts of her organisation, Terre des hommes, together with UNHCR and the IOC.


…To practice

During the presentation of UEFA’s Good Practice Collection – Football and Refugees – Addressing key challenges, Piara Power of Fare network described the huge potential that national football associations have to play in this field, and remarked that involvement in social inclusion activities from FAs has grown exponentially in the past few years.


“If this all ends, can it continue?”

The question of continuity was raised in Workshop 2, in reference to funding and coordination by one main stakeholder. Des Tomlinson, from the Football Association of Ireland, said that a pertinent question to consider is, “If this all ends, can it continue?” And if it can’t, then certain elements of the project need to be rethought. That is why the FAI’s focus in on partnership and capacity building among NGOs.

This debate continued, with the question as to whether projects are too heavily reliant upon specific people. Julie Berg from the Norwegian FA explained that their strategy looks at people as part of a system within a structure. As long as the system functions there should be people to fill the various positions.

One audience member gave information about a research study that makes conclusions about the increased drop-out rate from mainstream football structures among adolescents, and especially female, refugees. She raised the point about the importance of considering informal or recreational participation structures as well.


Experts’ Corner

The fact that key organisations and individuals working in this field were “living in silos” was one of the main issues that Amir Khosravi, from the FIFA Master programme highlighted as standing in the way to progress in this field.

Cristina Joss, of the University of Bern, recommended that organisations ensure that they “complement other initiatives” when they enter this field with a new programme.

To help improve or aid these two points above, Marc Probst, Executive Director of sportanddev.org informed the audience of the existence of a new section on the website which is dedicated to hosting details relating to user uploaded refugee and sport projects. The website address is: https://www.sportanddev.org/en/learn-more/sport-and-refugees

He also outlined several perceived gaps which would need addressing, among them a “good overview or mapping of the sport and refugee field” and a lack of “policy-level guidance”.

One message which came across in two or three of the scientific presentations was that refugees are not a homogenous group, and people often fall into the trap of prescribing projects with just that in mind.

The “complexity of inclusive programmes” – an expression introduced to us by Katrin Koenen of ICSSPE – reminds us that development programmes should be constructed in consideration of the individual needs of participants, or at least groups of participants, who may be male or female, originate from different countries, will certainly have had different experiences on their way to their adopted countries, and have different faiths and value systems.

Katrin focused on the use of sport as a tool to alleviate psychosocial trauma. She is a strong advocate of the “cautious approach”, meaning no one can be fully informed on the extent of trauma someone has experienced. It therefore pays to approach different situations with due consideration of various possible reactions.

In another example of the complexity of inclusion programmes, Marianne Meier’s extensive research informed us of various social-cultural ideals that often don’t bode well for the use of sport as a tool for development. For instance, a survey revealed that one of the ideals of femininity at a refugee camp in Kenya was ‘submissive’.  Clearly, as Marianne, from the University of Bern, told us, “‘submissive and ‘sport’ don’t mix”!


Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF)

Later in the day, we learned more about the CRRF, a portal developed with facilitation by the UNHCR, which “merges a humanitarian and development nexus to working with refugees” and serves to feed into the Global Compact on Refugees, and to inform those involved – or wanting to get involved in – ‘comprehensive responses’.

An initial roll-out over two years, within 15 countries, focussed on an engagement across the areas of ‘reception and admission’, ‘support for immediate and on-going needs’, ‘support for host countries and communities’ and ‘durable solutions’, which include voluntary return and local integration.

Nick Sore, from UNHCR, explained that the Framework enables us to be more informed on various situations affecting refugees, as well as allowing us to identify where we can use sport to achieve the Global Compact on Refugees.


Call to Action

To define future cooperation, and thereby meet the final part of the Forum’s objective, a Call to Action was created, in collaboration with our Forum partners. The Call to Action was presented alongside an impassioned plea for leading by example, and those in the room at the end of a long, intensive and hugely rewarding day were invited to sign it.

For those not present on the day, but still wanting to contribute to the movement, you can provide your individual and/or organisation’s support in the Call to Action at www.sport4refugees.net.