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  • Writer's pictureDavid Thibodeau

Sports and Refugees

At the end of 2019, there were 79.5 million people who had been forcibly displaced worldwide, accounting for roughly 1% of the world’s population. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has identified sport as an important catalyst for helping refugees communities.

For people who have been impacted by war or persecution, sport is much more than just a recreational activity done for fun. It is an opportunity for people to heal, develop and grow. Sport is also an important connector for refugee communities and their host communities. The UNHCR tries to harness the power of sport to “achieve better outcomes for displaced and stateless people”. They also believe that sport is an important tool for raising awareness of displacement and statelessness and can help change perceptions and attitudes towards refugees. The Olympic Refugee Team at Rio 2016 is a very good example of how sport can be used to bring these issues to the forefront of society.

An IOC-UNHCR partnership on sport and education for young refugees has been started to help support refugee communities worldwide. In Jordan, a multi-purpose sports area was constructed in the Azraq camp to support various sports. This program is an “important contribution to community-building among different ethnic groups” in the camp. A program in Ethiopia is focused on recreational activities for adolescent girls and young refugees with impairments to encourage community work, and prevention measures regarding adolescent sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence.

The Champ Camp in Jordan’s largest refugee camp aims “to provide youth with meaningful opportunities to participate in their society.” Through “capitalizing on [their] long-term building model, [they] are allowing young people to engage in Al-Baqa’a Refugee Camp in an unprecedented manner.

However, it is important to explore the issue of physical inactivity among immigrant communities (specific data on refugees could not be found). The province of British Columbia in Canada found that in 2015, 47% of new immigrants were physically active, with immigrants who have lived here for over 10 years are 55% physically active. Overall rates of physical activity in British Columbia among men is 65.7% and 62.3% among women. A report from Statistics Canada found that nationally, regardless of how long immigrants have been in Canada, they were less likely to be at least moderately active in their leisure time than were Canadians overall. Sport and recreation strategies must incorporate measures to help get immigrants involved in physical activity.


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