This week, at the Beyond Sport Summit in London, major stakeholders in sport convened with leaders in the development community to identify how sport, in the midst of one of the biggest refugee crises in history, can be better used to support the millions of refugees and displaced people around the globe.
On the final day of the annual summit, the first-ever and largest gathering of decision-makers from development and inter-governmental entities, businesses, sports clubs and governing bodies, and grassroots organisations working with refugees and displaced people, met in a working group to assess, recommend, and commit to taking action through sport in camps for refugees and internally displaced people.
The results of the Initiative were then presented in the final session of the Beyond Sport Summit to over 500 delegates, including recommendations and next steps to take forward.
Nick Keller, founder and CEO of Beyond Sport commented: "The Refugee Initiative key take-away is that there is a need for efficiency and coordination around refugee sport. Once basic requirements are met in camps, sport has been proven to help rebuild a sense of community in many testing circumstances. The ad hoc nature of sports delivery is doing the refugee population a disservice and is a missed opportunity. The development of a lead organisation formed of all key stakeholders in sport, offering strategic advice to the UN cluster leads that coordinate delivery on the ground in the camps, will be a game changer and will place sport as a crucial facilitator of positive change.”
Regarding the first-ever meeting of the Initiative, Rt Hon Justine Greening, Secretary of State said: “I am aware that for refugee children in particular, sport can play an important role in helping to address health, social and developmental needs. Sports programmes can help contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social integration by providing a safe forum to play.”
UNICEF UK Executive Director David Bull recognises the vital role that sport can play in helping to fulfil children’s rights. “When conflict strikes, children are hardest hit and face terrible dangers. Many lose their families, their homes and their schools. When a child’s life is turned upside down, sport can be a vital and familiar comfort in an otherwise distressing world.”
The development of the working group by Beyond Sport and UNICEF, will involve initial meetings with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and further commitments include the donation of a test court for creation of an ideal facility in refugee camps from Sport Court; and support from major corporations and organisations including Arsenal FC, Lycamobile, Change Foundation and streetfootballworld.
This commitment and the objectives of the Initiative were brought to life the following day at Marion Richardson Primary School in Stepney, London, through a demonstration and on-pitch presentation to the pupils showcasing the use of sport to support refugees in a programme designed by Spirit of Soccer. The charity organisation has worked with refugees and displaced people in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan for the last ten years, using a unique methodology that uses football to teach children how to avoid landmines and unexploded bombs whilst keeping them away from violent extremism. Spirit of Soccer announced that it had received US $500,000 from the US State Department PMWRA, which will be used to engage 3,000 Iraqi and Syrian young people in football leagues that will educate them in mine risk education and train them in coaching skills.
Through football exercises and workshops the pupils were able to fully understand the dangers that refugee children face in camps, and how the charity programme is providing comprehensive mine risk education through football to impact their community and save lives.
Further commitments and actions around the Refugee Sport Initiative will be developed in the coming months.