“Diversity makes our sport better, more popular and more interesting for people around the world. In the same way, diversity makes our societies stronger” stated the former international soccer stars Raul Gonzalez and David Villa, speaking on behalf of the United Nations Together Campaign.
Over the last few years, the rising global instability has led to bigger migration flows. At the same time, this has brought new challenges throughout the world. Among them, is the need to integrate these individuals in society, considering that refugees and migrants are more likely to stay in host countries. Indeed, integrating refugees goes beyond providing residency and work, it is also about giving them the opportunity to exchange with and learn from their new society. “They have to find their bearings, get to know the workings of society, including its history, dominant ideas, beliefs, and traditions” underscores the “Together” campaign. In this regard, sport plays a significant role to overcoming obstacles, and gather people no matter what their differences are.
At the global level, several international organizations have launched initiatives to promote sport as an engine for more inclusive and peaceful societies. In 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made history during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, with the participation of the first Refugee Olympic Team. Described as “a symbol of hope and peace for refugees” by Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, this team aims to change the story about refugees. The objective of the “Together” campaign led by the United Nations, aims to “change negative perceptions and attitudes towards refugees and migrants” while strengthening the social contract between host countries, communities, and refugees and migrants. Once again, this initiative believes in the strength of sport to enhance the integration of refugees and migrants and get rid of stereotypes. In partnership with the Spanish soccer league, hosting 479 foreign players from 44 different countries, the campaign highlights the positive contributions that arise from diversity.
Furthermore, sport also plays a key role in overcoming cultural differences and gathering people around universal practices. In 2010, the Council of Europe released a report titled: “Sport facing the test of cultural diversity. Integration and intercultural dialogue in Europe: Analysis and practical examples”. Analyzing the contribution of sport towards integration, the report concluded that sport is an “ideal vehicle for intercultural dialogue and social integration”. Moreover, it defined sport’s values as respect and teamwork while religion, background and/or skin color becomes irrelevant. In Germany, through the “Champions without Borders” project, or in India, thanks to the “Rohingya Human Rights Initiative”, doors have been opened to refugees so that they can find a place while playing sport with others.
In India, it has been a way to turn tension into camaraderie between Indian neighbors and the Rohingyas. However, sport also helps refugees and migrants to start afresh and overcome the trauma endured in their previous life. The practice of sport is a great means of self-empowerment, improving self-confidence and giving refugees the opportunity to remain active, while getting used to their new environment.
Thus, from spreading a positive image to being a universal integration tool, sport appears as a great opportunity to promote integration and make our societies more inclusive. Tackling these challenges will require the commitment of all and at all levels, to change the narrative about refugees and migrants, but also to open the doors of our societies. If sport alone won’t give a response to the global humanitarian crisis, it can still greatly contribute to a better future for all. As António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations said: “Diversity in all its forms is a tremendous asset, not a threat”
To learn more about the United Nations Together Campaign: https://together.un.org/