Considering the personal challenges of refugees

 

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4.3. Theoretical background – changing perspectives in sports participation

Sport is an important part of our society and often a part of our identity as human beings.

Aside from the physical advantages of moving and being active, sport can make a positive contribution in a range of other areas too – like networking, providing social context and a sense of belonging. But it is important to remember that sport is more than just a game. We form strong bonds with our teammates and our sport , gain the ability to interact with people outside of our normal network and we contribute to our sense of identity.

All this is important, but it is perhaps even more vital when a migrant or refugee arrive in a new country. As a refugee arriving into a new community, there are many things that need to come together. Aside from basic needs like housing, employment, creating a social network and learning a new language, there are also every-day things like how to buy a bus ticket, where to buy clothes or how to book a doctor’s appointment. Even though many countries have systems in place to help guide people through these issues, it can be difficult to navigate through them when migrants and refugees are new and perhaps without a network of support.

Both elite and grassroots sport are global phenomena and, as we state earlier, this familiarity offers a tool for the integration of refugees. Sports settings become a meeting place where individuals with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds can get to know, develop an understanding for, and respect, each other through a common interest. In fact, science shows that sport has a positive impact on areas as diverse as health, peace, education and democracy1.

In order to achieve an environment where everyone, regardless of age, gender, social class, religion, cultural and ethnic background feel as if they belong, we need an intersectional perspective. Intersectionality is a theoretical idea and an analytical tool which is used to understand how different norms and power structures together create inequality, discrimination and oppression2.

Sport, like the rest of our society, is governed by norms and structures. These norms and structures can be different from country to country and we need to take into account cultural differences as well as differences in laws and regulations. Thus when a migrant or refugee arrives in a new country they have an ethnic belonging, a sexual orientation, a gender, perhaps a religion too. All of these pieces are a part of them and also need to be taken into consideration when they evaluate whether or not they will be included or excluded from an environment, based on its norms. 

So in order for a sports organisation to be accessible and for it to continue to develop, we need to identify its norms and structures before we can start working to change them.

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[1] Peterson, T. 2008. Föreningsfostran och tävlingsfostran.

[2] Virtuell-Fuentes, E. A., Miranda, P.Y. & Abdulrahim, S. 2012. More than culture: Structural racism, intersectionality theory, and immigrant health. Social Science & Medicine, 75, 2 099–2 116.

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