The Hellenic Paralympic Committee
The Hellenic Paralympic Committee
The Hellenic Paralympic Committee has been working with disabled refugees, as a tool for their successful social inclusion into their host society.
Para sports and physical activity can be extremely valuable not only for participants’ physical and mental health, but also in the context of their social inclusion and integration.
In Greece, the Hellenic Paralympic Committee (HPC) has been using sports as an integration activity for refugees with disabilities. HPC started a pilot program in 2016, which, among others, led to the participation of one refugee athlete with disability in Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Since then, the Hellenic Paralympic Committee has organized several programs that have resulted in the inclusion of 25 refugees with disabilities in Paralympic sports.
The first program started with the support of the Agitos Foundation and the International Paralympic Committee back in 2016. This was then followed by the STEADY (Sport as a Tool of Empowerment of dis-Abled Displaced Youth) Project (2019-2021) funded by the Erasmus+ Sport program of the European Commission as well as the RePower (Refugee Power) Project, in partnership with Equal Society under the Active Citizens’ Fund.
The three projects share the vision of increasing sports participation of displaced youth with disabilities by promoting volunteering and equal access of refugees and asylum seekers to organized and grassroots sport. In doing so, they focus on raising para sport awareness in the refugee community, changing the paradigm and moving refuges with disabilities from the margins to become integral members of the sporting community.
Including individuals with disabilities in sports is a challenge which becomes even bigger when these individuals are refugees. Besides the disability itself, additional barriers detected in our projects include language difficulties, mental stress, discrimination and intolerance. Gender restrictions, mostly due to cultural or religious reasons, has also been identified as a major barrier for women.
Lack of existing synergies and networking between sport organizations/federations and refugee related NGOs is also a challenge. Over the past few years, the Hellenic Paralympic Committee and its partners have gathered useful experience regarding these challenges and the course of action required for the best possible outcome.
Some of these barriers were a challenge to overcome. Working closely with our European partners presented the opportunity to discover common ground and shape the methods and activities of the programs in a way that would be most beneficial for the inclusion of refugees with disabilities, including:
- Cooperation and network building with NGOs, government and sports federations
- Incentives for sports clubs and federations to include refugees with disabilities in their program
- Sports activities in refugee camps in order to avoid coordination issues, like providing transportation to and from sport venues
- Changes in the legal framework in order to encourage sport organizations to invite and include refugees with disabilities in sports
- Promotion of the participation of displaced youth with disabilities in team sports in order to enhance their opportunities for social inclusion
- Talks by refugee athletes with disabilities, Paralympians and members of the Paralympic Refugee Team in camps to inspire refugees to engage in sports
- Promotion of building networks between organizations that work with governmental departments and sports organizations
- Engaging female coaches and administrators to reach out to the women refugees
- Training of specialists working in the field, coaches, social scientists, journalists
Refugees and asylum seekers with disabilities represent an invisible group of individuals who are forced to leave their countries in disadvantaged situations; but this is a challenge that calls the European Union and its member states to take responsibility and action. Para sports offer the unique ability to transcend the linguistic, cultural and social barriers and are an excellent platform for strategies of inclusion and adaptation. The universal popularity of sport and its physical, social and economic development benefits make it an ideal tool for fostering the well-being of persons with disabilities.
Vassilis Kalyvas (PhD) is the Sport & Education Manager of the Hellenic Paralympic Committee. He has extensive experience in designing inclusive programs that use Paralympic Sports as a tool of empowerment and inclusion.