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How grassroots sport diplomacy can increase participation of women refugees in sports activities across Europe

Copyrights: Swiss Academy for Development

How grassroots sport diplomacy can increase participation of women refugees in sports activities across Europe

The concept of grassroots sports diplomacy has recently received attention with the increasing use of sport as a tool when working with refugees. It can be especially useful when considering the impact it can have women's participation in sport.

This article is a response to our call for articles on sport and refugees. If you would like to contribute, you can find out more here.

Among the millions of stateless people worldwide, UNHCR estimates that around 570,000 live in Europe. The number of people seeking protection in Europe has grown considerably in recent years.[1]

According to some research, women refugees have lesser participation in sport activities than their male counterparts.[2][3] “Different social, cultural and biological factors affect decisions of men and women to take part in sports and the relative frequency of such participation. Women experience greater difficulties to access sport due to provision of facilities, commuting and time obligations. [4]

It is important to understand:

  • What are the barriers that prevent women refugees to engage in sport?
  • How can participation in grassroots sport activities help build awareness of and play a role in increasing women participation among refugees?

The UNHCR, Interational Olympic Committee and Terre des Hommes Sport for Protection toolkit reported that social inclusion, social cohesion and psychosocial wellbeing are especially important. How can sport be used to tackle those three issues?

Grassroots sport activities can be a powerful tool to increase women refugee participation in sports, challenges gender stereotypes, challenging deep-rooted attitudes held by boys, their families and their community. "Grassroots sport is physical leisure activity, organised and non-organised, practised regularly at non-professional level for health, educational or social purposes.”  [5]

A new research from the EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW suggests a strong work ethic, being a team player and determined are the three character traits associated with women who have participated in sport. 

This means understanding the integration of refugees through the lens of grassroot sports diplomacy. As for integration of refugees, we have to think of integration not simply as an end result, but rather as a process.

Grassroot sports diplomacy can help showcase how civil society organisations work across borders and take sport diplomacy from being a handshake between elite actors to diplomatic actions at the grassroots level. Grassroots sport diplomacy is a type of diplomacy where actors (including other grassroots sport organisations, NGOs, civil society, or even individuals) along with classical actors:

  • Increase or create lasting dialogue and cultural understanding;
  • Facilitate transfer of knowledge between the grassroots sport sector and relevant actors (including other grassroots sport organisations, States, NGOs, civil society, or even individuals) and
  • Contribute to society and individual development in the health, educational, sport or social fields. [6]

Effectively this means refugees becoming part of a new community/society, and in turn the “locals” giving opportunities for integration, and spaces for interaction between the “locals” and the refugees. If a community does not accept foreigners, regardless of their own efforts to be included in their new society and community, inclusion simply will not happen. [7]

This reflective dimension to sport and diplomacy takes into account communication, representation, and negotiation as a two-way dialogue giving scope for greater understanding role of grassroots sport diplomacy in overcoming barriers and increasing women refugee participation in grassroots sport activities.

Increasing participation in grassroot sports will help women refugees a greater understanding of their bodies, leadership, communication skills, teamwork, mobility, negotiation, sense of identity beyond the domestic realm, sense of belongingness, self-confidence, self-ownership, decision-making and challenging gender stereotypes.

Anirban Chakraborty is an upcoming author and development sector professional with 5 years of experience in the sports sector and more than 3 years of experience in the development sector. Anirban is currently a Manager – Fundraising and Employee Engagement at Dream a Dream where he manages key corporate accounts along with football grants. He comes with extensive experience in the sports sector currently looking for extensive research on grassroots sports diplomacy.


[2]. Barriers and future opportunities for sport and non-sport organisations to use sport and physical activities for inclusion of refugees: Results of a stakeholder consultation in the MOVE Beyond project, 13, 2018

[3]. Implementation Guide for integration of refugees through sport, 28-30, 2018

[4]. P. Downward, Lera-López, F., Rasciute, S, The correlates of sports participation in Europe. European Journal of Sport Science, 14(6), 592-602, 2014.

[5]. Report to Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, Grassroots Sport - Shaping Europe': High Level Group on Grassroots sport, European Union, 4-6, 2016

[6] International Sport and Culture Association, Grassroots Sport Diplomacy - Overview, Mapping and Definition, 15  

[7] International Sport and Culture Association, Implementation guide for Integration of Refugees through Sport, 12-22  


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Anirban Chakraborty


Wednesday, September 9, 2020 - 16:28