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IRTS Networking Platform enhances visibility of community projects supporting refugee inclusion: closing conference

By Rachel Payne, ISCA

Eight EU-supported projects accepted our invitation to present their results to other members of the Integration of Refugees Through Sport (IRTS) Networking Platform and the EU Sport Unit on 24 November, as the IRTS Networking Platform project and Mentoring Programme held parallel closing meetings at Maison de la Poste in Brussels.

Marcello Pier Corrado from the EU Sport Unit recapped how far the EU’s support for refugee inclusion through sport projects had come since its first call for smaller proposals in 2016, a year after Europe’s refugee arrival crisis. The IRTS Networking Platform, for example, received a larger three-year project grant as part of the European Parliament’s Preparatory Actions funding scheme in 2020.

“We try to use sport as a tool to facilitate inclusion of all types of groups into society,” he said “We wanted to introduce something that was effective, streamlined and that could teach us what sport can do [to support refugee inclusion in particular].”

Despite the pressing need to assist Ukrainian refugees as millions flee the war-torn nation, refugee inclusion through sport is likely to compete with other funding priorities such as the environment and digital transformation of society in 2023. But Corrado assured that the European Commission prioritises “good ideas”, so did not rule out that several quality initiatives would still be funded beyond 2022.

“If it’s not football, it’s even better for us,” he quipped – a catch phrase that was repeated a few more times as the morning’s programme rolled on.

Among those who picked up on the irony were Malta Football Association, Kraainem Football Club and Raffaella Chiodo Karpinsky from UISP/SPIN Project, all of whom have achieved success and awards for their football initiatives. 

Although Peter Busuttil from Malta FA’s Football Social Responsibility project admitted that the association had expanded its repertoire to accommodate Bangladeshi refugees who were missing their national sport: “We’re a football club, but we’ve adapted our activities to include cricket for Bangladeshi refugees.”

The association is not fixated on results or talent scouting in its refugee programme either. Busuttil emphasised that creating a sense of belonging and enjoyment were the main focus. “At the end of the day, it’s not about creating great football teams, it’s about creating a community,” he said.

The Belgian Kraainem Football Club has taken a similar approach to its We Welcome Refugees project, which started in 2015 and combines a language course with football training to facilitate the integration of refugee participants. 

“The most important thing is that they play together and feel like they belong to a team,” project leader Benjamin Renauld said, adding that playing the game together is also a form of communication and a common language for refugees from different countries. “They understand each other through their movements on the pitch.”

Kraainem also makes its language courses informal, open, positive and forward-looking.

“Our language course is not really a course, it’s a conversation,” Renauld said. “We don’t talk about the past: why did you come here? We talk about their future: what are your dreams? What do you want to do? We can give you the tools to get you there. Not only in football; it can be in other areas as well.”

Be prepared to adapt and be satisfied with short-term results
There was also a consensus about the experienced speakers that grassroots sport providers need to be open to adapting their activities and expect challenging circumstances and disruption, and know when to seek external support. Raffaella Chiodo Karpinsky from UISP said that despite organisations working in this field for many years, many are still caught off-guard or do not know how to respond to new arrivals in their towns.

“There’s a need to build the capacities of grassroots sport organisations to support newly arrived refugees,” she said.

Wim Poelmans, the manager of the Belgian athletics programme for refugees, Run Free, which won an ISCA Award in 2021, said that motivating organisations to go the extra mile to help refugees is often about discovering “how to find pleasure in seeking imaginative solutions to different problems.”

He said the secret was to know your limits (find local support, resist the compulsion to take on too many participants or try to deal with participants’ traumas).
“Think in terms of ‘us’ – work together, collaborate, team up,” he advised.

Dóra Gottgeisl, from Oltalom Sport Association, agreed that it’s tempting to try to evaluate a refugee programme with the same benchmarks as regular sports programmes, but that organisers should measure their success based on the short-term positive impact their have on refugees and asylum seekers who may return home or need to move on as their applications are being processed.

“It’s ok working with short-term goals,” she said. “You have to be ok with not knowing the long-term impact of your work.”

The SMILE project, led by the German Olympic Sports Confederation’s (DOSB), offers the most diverse array of sports to refugee participants due to the number of DOSB-affiliated associations and federations taking part in the project – ranging from ice hockey to cycling and even cheerleading. 

Alexandra Kreutel from DOSB explained that its six pilot projects included a course for people working at sports organisations to learn how to work with refugees. The projects customised this training course to different contexts: from combating racist heckling to integrating Ukrainian refugees into a cheerleading team. Melanie Schöppner shares more in our feature story here.

The programme for the day also included presentations from PLAY International’s PlayLab project and CAP Ciudad de Murcia football club’s We Play Football Together project, and you can read more about these initiatives on our IRTS News page.

Sustainability of funding relies on getting successful initiatives noticed
The sustainability of funding for projects like these will rely both on the results of these initiatives and how visible they are to funders like the European Commission, as Marcello Pier Corrado noted.

“Organisations are achieving good results at the local level,” he said “That’s why this platform is important – to find out more about the smaller projects. Very good work is being done by smaller organisations to support inclusion.”

So ISCA will continue sharing good practices on our IRTS Networking Platform and Sport for Ukraine websites, especially as we continue working in this space with an IRTS Nordic programme and We Play Together, a project led by V4Sport in Poland, in 2023.

Photos: Kristine Onarheim, ISCA

Posted on 24/11/2022 by Rachel Payne, ISCA


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