History and the present shook hands on 29 January 2019, as the fourth Training Session of the ASPIRE project took place in Mechelen, Belgium. The event was organised by Sport Flanders, the Belgian ASPIRE project partner, at the Dossin Kazerne, which served as a detention center for people destined for concentration camps during World War II.
Philippe Paquay, Director-General of Sport Flanders and Christophe Busch, Director-General of Kazerne Dossin, gave their welcome words to the 60-strong group of interested sportspeople from federations, NGOs, municipalities, government agencies, clubs and universities.
Dirk De Cock from the Flanders Integration Agency presented some key facts and figures regarding refugees in Belgium and ENGSO Policy Director Kaisa Larjomaa presented the ASPIRE project.
Presenting their experiences from the past ten years ASPIRE facilitators Lillemor Lindell and Sofia B. Karlsson shared the Swedish perspective to inclusion in sports. Highlighted was the importance of naming existing norms, that very often determine accessibility in sports field and board rooms. Breaking the patterns was an important step in Sweden to show everyone is welcome in sport.
After an energetic networking lunch key speakers, Athletes with a refugee background shared inspirational stories on how sport helped them build their new lives in Belgium.
Taekwondoka Raheleh Asemani arrived in Belgium 6 years ago as a refugee. She has fought her way on the Belgian National Team at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
Mohamad Jarkas was living a good life in Syria as philosophy student and football referee, until he was forced to choose between fighting the war or fleeing the country.
“I didn’t want to leave football, which was my hobby. When I had achieved refugee status in Belgium, I was actively in contact with associations and eventually became a referee on a national level. Sport was one of the most important things here to help me integrate”, Jarkas explained.
Nuur Salah had a similar experience, having to flee Ethiopia to avoid becoming a soldier. The Vertical Club Rising Youth Project gave him the opportunity to get a training and traineeship.
In the second part of the day ASPIRE facilitator Dr Richard Bailey from the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education (ICSSPE) presented ASPIRE Training Module ‘Considering the Personal Challenges of Refugees – Psychosocial Aspects of Inclusive Coaching’, pointing out that sport by itself does not have a positive impact. It is the good quality sport - good coaches, that empower, educate and integrate. Coaches that recognise refugee position and are able to respond to their individual needs.
Best practice and examples of successful initiatives were presented by Dirk De Cock from the Flanders Integration Agency, Hedeli Sassi and Jeroen Vanderputte from The Royal Belgian Football Association and Benjamin Gerard from the Vertical Club.
Finally, Agata Dziarnowska from the European Commission (DG EAC Sport Unit) gave useful insights to the work of the EU in the field of social inclusion of refugees through sport, introducing EU funding possibilities such as and the , and the .
The ASPIRE trainings will resume with remaining sessions in Greece, Bulgaria, Austria and Spain in the course of 2019.