More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, sparking the well-known migrant and refugee crisis. Most of them came from war-torn countries such as Syria, but violence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea as well as poverty in Kosovo and Albania, were also driving forces for migration. Regarding asylum applications, in average 260 refugees per 100,000 Europe’s population claimed asylum in 2015, ranging from 1,800 in Hungary to 5 in Croatia. Transition countries, such as Serbia, are “tampon” zones with most difficult organisational and capacity-building challenges. Although Germany and the frontier countries, such as Greece, Italy and Hungary, have been hit tremendously, the crisis is facing all EU and non-EU countries in Europe.
The newly arrived asylum seekers face extreme difficulties: fleeing from war and persecution, they risk their lives to come to Europe in the hope of giving a better life to their families. They have cultural and religious beliefs very different from that of Europeans, which could exacerbate discriminatory sentiments in the host countries’ population, especially when it collides with tensions over housing and inclusion. According to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, “human rights violations against migrants, including denial of access to fundamental economic and social rights such as the right to education or the right to health, are often closely linked to discriminatory laws and practices, and to deep-seated attitudes of prejudice and xenophobia against migrants.”
Sport is often claimed to help address social problems, such as the effects of social exclusion. Participation in sport, physical activity and play can be a means of promoting intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding. It can also ease the transition process, alleviating trauma and supporting the psychosocial well-being of individuals in marginalised, traumatised, or other at-risk groups. The Human Capital Model, which offers the most comprehensive review of the benefits of sport and physical activity, cites evidence of contributions to positive relationships, trust, community cohesion, and enhanced social status (Bailey, et al., 2012; 2013). This way, sport can help Europe to address some of the challenges related to the recent migrant and refugee crises and the social inclusion of refugees.
Although sport has been identified as one approach to counter the social exclusion of migrants (De Knop & Telling, 2000), sports participation in itself does not inherently lead to the desired impacts and outcomes, the so-called inclusion ‘through’ sport (Elling, 2004). Specific social outcomes can only be achieved if certain conditions are present and successful processes are realised. An important role for anyone working with individuals suffering from trauma is to identify appropriate activities that can support their recovery and social inclusion. In terms of sport and physical activity, programmes need to empirically support intervention principles that should be used to guide and inform intervention and prevention efforts to promote a sense of safety, calm, self- and community efficacy, social connectedness and hope.
However, people involved in sport clubs, being sometimes the only unofficial contact person for migrants and refugees, are exposed to a new situation that often goes beyond the provision of sporting and playing activities. They should adapt existing coaching and teaching skills to the specific context of refugees and migrants, including psychosocial support, in order to help severely traumatised people who are in despair about having no long-term prospects. Psychosocial support uses different ways to support people to overcome challenges and maintain good mental health. Psychosocial interventions do not involve the use of medication or formal psychotherapeutic interventions, but rather use activities that build on the resources of communities to develop well-being. The most common aims of these psychosocial approaches are to increase social functioning, decrease distress, and preventing more serious difficulties arising later.
In addition, based on the findings of ENGSO’s Creating a Level Playing Field project, there is often a lack of intercultural, psychological and pedagogical competence of sport instructors, coaches, volunteers and project leaders in sport clubs and sport programmes. It can be concluded that there is a need for intercultural training to make sport more inclusive. There is a need to improve the social and civic competencies and cultural awareness of the individuals involved or willing to be involved in sports clubs and sport programmes. Specific activities should be implemented with the aim of developing opportunities to sensitise individuals involved in sport on mutual respect and anti-discrimination. For example, with the help of educational packages or intercultural learning courses, to raise awareness of the need to include people with different background into the daily work of organised sport.
In the light of the stagnating and declining number of people participating in sport as well as in organised sport (European Commission, Eurobarometer 2014), the inclusion of migrants and refugees in sport clubs can be a means of accommodating organised sport to changing societies. In order to preserve people’s health and well-being through participation in physical activity and sport, which has an effect on our society and economy as a whole, there is a need for sports organisations to become innovative and open up to new perspectives. Including people from different backgrounds into the daily work of organised sport can result in new members being recruited and the involvement of potential professional and voluntary staff, such as coaches or even board members, who could enrich cultural diversity within the organisation. By becoming socially more responsible, organised sport can raise its status in society, which can also result in increased membership. This way, organised sport can better reflect the changing society around it. Furthermore, it can also take social responsibility for the common societal challenges, and answer to the demands that governments and societies are placing upon it.
All in all, in order to improve social inclusion of refugees in and through sport, professional development for individuals involved in sport would be essential as well as encouraging sports organisations to open up and be more accessible. Being together with migrants and refugees and providing participation opportunities for them requires knowledge. Firstly on the background of refugees - their present situation and perspectives - and secondly on the potential of activities to alleviate trauma and promote mutual cultural understanding. Therefore, the main motivation behind the project is the demand for more knowledge, skills and competences as well as on the aim of supporting sports organisations to offer suitable participation opportunities for migrants and refugees. This is in, and through sport, physical activity, and play, and will thus facilitate the inclusion of migrants into the new hosting communities in a broader perspective.