FIRE

3- Football’s contribution to social inclusion

Wednesday 16 October 2019

3- Football’s contribution to social inclusion
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By focusing what people have in common, rather than their differences, football can be a powerful vehicle to contribute to the inclusion of refugees in their new countries. The potential of sport as a tool for social inclusion and integration had been widely acknowledged

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Football is a simple game that is accessible to almost everybody and that provides joy and pleasure to participants of all levels. It does not require significant linguistic competences and has a long history of inclusion across all socio-economic layers of society.

On the basis of this rather intuitive experience, both policy-makers and civil society actors, as well as the football community in its largest sense, never tire of pointing out that football has an unequalled potential for facilitating the integration of recently arrived migrants in their new host society. As Aydan Özoğuz, Commissioner for Immigration, Refugees and Integration at the German Chancellory between 2013 and 2018, summed it up,

“Football has the special power of bringing together people across cultural differences and thus strengthen social cohesion. It fosters encounters, creates understanding, and breaks down reciprocal prejudice in a common experience”.[1]

While the enthusiasm about football’s qualities may vary between countries, it becomes clear in such statements that football, rather than an end in itself, is perceived as a means in the process of achieving the objective of social integration. The terms that are most commonly used for this purpose are “vehicle” or “tool”, as in the preface to this report or in the recent Inspire toolkit published by the Fare network:

“By focusing what people have in common, rather than their differences, football can be a powerful vehicle to contribute to the inclusion of refugees in their new countries. The potential of sport as a tool for social inclusion and integration had been widely acknowledged.”[2]

Beyond these general positive effects of football, what are the specific benefits that practising the game can bring to newly arrived individuals with a migration background? The most obvious benefits, confirmed in numerous statements of individuals concerned, are the following:

  • Social interaction – engaging in a leisure activity allows to discover the host society and its ordinary social life, as well as develop a first network of contacts;
  • Language skills – in addition to regular language classes, football is a field of application of colloquial communication skills and acquisition of a specialised vocabulary;
  • Intercultural adaptation – with the help of a seemingly universal practice, football allows to get a grip on the socio-cultural codes and behavioural norms of the host society;
  • Distraction – a football training is a welcome escape from daily worries and the boredom that characterises the daily life of migrants that the authorities have taken charge of;
  • Movement – playing football contributes to physical well-being in providing a slot of healthy exercise in the very sedentary daily life of newly arrived migrants;
  • Structure – a regular (weekly) training session and/or matches can be an anchor of stability and continuity in an existence that has undergone a traumatic break with old habits;
  • Solidarity – football conveys not only a feeling of welcome by ordinary citizens of the host country, but also, in its quality as team sport, a spirit of group cohesion and solidarity.
  • Self-confidence – many migrants report that football, with its competitive elements, helped them gain self-confidence in actively contributing to a constructive team experience.

 

[1] Deutscher Fussball-Bund (DFB), Willkommen im Verein! Fussball mit Flüchtlingen, Frankfurt:2016, p. 3.
[2] Fare network, Inspire toolkit to working with refugee women through football, London: 2017, p.3

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