Newly arrived migrants and their integration via sport

Summary of the conference organized by the Council of Europe and sponsored by EPAS

The conference  "Newly arrived migrants and their integration via sport" (Vienna, 2-3 June 2016) was sponsored by EPAS as an opportunity for reflection on sport as an activity that could spread a sense of mutual belonging and be a tool of participation and empowerment that is transversal with respect to the spheres of integration (learning the receiving country's language, psychophysical health, social and work placement).

See also: Agreement between the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and CONI to promote integration policies through sport

The conference saw the participation, amongst others, of Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni (Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe), Antonio Silva Mendes (European Commission, DG for Education and Culture), the competent Ministers of Austria, Slovenia and Albania, Pamela Vipond (Deputy Director of Olympic Solidarity - International Olympic Committee), and various Networks, including FARE network (Football Against Racism in Europe), European Sport Inclusion Network, and the Loroupe Peace Foundation.


EPAS (Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport)

Within the Council of Europe, the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS) is a pan-European platform to promote sport along with its positive values. One of its many objectives is to develop a framework for inter-institutional cooperation in sport, as well as supporting institutions, sports federations and NGOs in promoting sport.

Main themes that emerged during the conference

Integration – as well as costing less than "non-integration" - is a "seminal" process that can reduce the widespread sense of fear and "suspension". Involving people in socialization activities, such as sports, is of major importance for the impact it has on everyone's daily life; in addition, sport has many meanings for people (a hobby, a passion, a game, fun, business, or a profession). Sport speaks a "universal" language. Sport is at one and the same time a "door-opener" (e.g., for refugees) and an "eye-opener" (e.g., for receiving societies).

For children and adolescents, sport is an extremely important tool of identification and to interiorize positive values. For this reason, school communities and extra-curricular activities are a crucial context where sport is also a factor to involve whole families.

Sports education can encourage the acquisition of soft skills (e.g. transversal social and communication skills), which play an important role in both cross-cultural understanding and social and work placement. In fact, practising a sport at any level, means being able to act as part of a team, working together with others, with loyalty, to achieve a common goal and respect shared rules. These characteristics can also be decisive when it comes to bringing young people into the labour market.

Sport is now included in the national integration Plans of many countries, including Austria.

Through conferences of this type, the hope is to build an "international community of good practices" for sport and integration.

Local level actions are crucial in integration: at this level it is important to build "bridges" between schools and sports grounds, clubs and sporting associations (e.g., by means of extra-curricular activities), and between sporting associations and migrants, to encourage them to practise sport and involve them in voluntary work that can help them become part of local communities. 

Lastly, how can we "measure" the impact of sport in terms of integration? We can consider both "subjective" indicators (e.g. a sense of belonging to the receiving community), and "objective" indicators, e.g.: access to the values of the receiving society; the relationship between the role in a sporting association and social and work placement; access to public spaces in places other than where one lives; strengthening of linguistic skills; the presence of minorities in sport (among players, association members, managers, and inside sports bodies).


Some experiences discussed during the conference

The Intercultural Football Plan, developed by the FAI (Football Association of Ireland), is based on anti-racism campaigns (with particular attention to problems of inappropriate language/behaviour) and Football participation programmes for children, adolescents and adults.

The SIQ Project (Sport-Integration-Qualification), developed by Caritas Styria (Austria), is based on sporting activity programmes and sports events, with particular attention to the involvement of women.

The Council of Europe's Pestalozzi Programme aims to improve transversal competence (e.g. intercultural skills, critical use of the media) in the field of physical education, enhancing the empowerment of professional educators (e.g. teachers, instructors, sports judges) and also focuses on the integration of refugees in schools.

The bike project, in London, volunteer-based, offers refugees and asylum-seekers a bicycle to move around the city and organizes workshops on the repair of second- bikes, with the goal of encouraging socialization while sharing and developing abilities and resources.

Hej Framling!, in Sweden, again volunteer-based, is a universalistic programme centred around people's psycho-physical health, including those with a migrant background. The idea is to bring together organizations and associations under the project's umbrella, putting them in a condition to contribute through what they do best (e.g., a gym offers a free weekly Yoga lesson, with a qualified instructor, for a group of refugees). The programme communicates via the social networks as well as a leaflet included with the documentation that the country's immigration office hands out to migrants.


(June 17, 2016)