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How ISCA became a leading European network for the Integration of Refugees Through Sport

Copyrights: International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA)

How ISCA became a leading European network for the Integration of Refugees Through Sport

An International Sport and Culture Association project facilitates networking and capacity building for professionals working on integration through sport.

The International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA) has been an umbrella to sport and physical activity promoting organisations for 25 years. This year, it was selected by the European Commission to build a network of organisations across Europe that specialise in the Integration of Refugees Through Sport (IRTS). So how did ISCA become a leading facilitator of networking and capacity building for IRTS professionals?

ISCA saw a pressing need right on its doorstep in 2015, when Denmark (where ISCA’s headquarters are located) and its fellow Nordic countries were faced with one of the biggest political and practical challenges of the decade. We witnessed Nordic countries applying different strategies to receiving and accommodating an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Africa, causing tension and confusion between the countries.

The way we could help in our field was to gather sport and community organisations from the Nordic countries to look into and collaborate on ways in which sport and physical activity could be used as tools to welcome and integrate refugees. We received two grants in 2016 – from NordPlus and the EU’s Erasmus+ KA2 stream – and the momentum continued to a larger Erasmus+ Collaborative Partnership (MOVE Beyond) and now to a network encompassing 70 EC-funded initiatives from 20 countries (the IRTS Networking Platform at

It was immediately evident from the groundwork done with our Nordic partners, including an asylum centre-based programme in Denmark, that sport by itself is not a magic tool for integration. A great deal of thought needs to go into the types of sport and physical activities that clubs or social organisations (and often individuals) provide for refugees and asylum seekers.

Refugees may be missing sports from their home countries like football or cricket, but high arousal, competitive sports may not be suitable for refugees who are still experiencing intense trauma or conflict. Therefore, physical activity in a broader sense can be used more effectively at first as a tool for relaxation, training language skills and establishing positive social contact in a new community.

Free resources capture practical advice from the field

The practical advice and techniques we learned from these first two projects are captured in a free course, implementation guide and videos from both the coordinators’ and the refugees’ perspectives at the ISCA website.

Moving beyond earlier approaches to refugee integration

The MOVE Beyond project has advanced our way of thinking about the Integration of Refugees Through Sport even further. This current project pairs sport and humanitarian organisations who are testing collaborative initiatives in four pilot countries. Our humanitarian organisation partners are challenging how refugee integration programmes are organised – including sport-related – and emphasising the importance of organising activities WITH refugees rather than FOR them, and putting the target group in the driver’s seat.

Save the Children and RF-SISU are leading the way in Sweden with their “self-empowerment” approach, and DGI and the Danish Red Cross are now looking at sport as a “deep integration tool” for refugees now that the political focus has shifted from the numbers of refugees arriving in Europe to including and integrating refugees who are now granted residency.

As the number of arrivals dropped, the political urgency to support initiatives for refugees also declined in many countries, even though the inclusion and integration of the refugees who have now been granted permission to settle in Europe is still a concern at the community level. That’s why we hope our sport and humanitarian partnerships will advocate the value of Integration of Refugees Through Sport to political stakeholders and maintain support for the efforts being made in this field.

In-depth insights from sport and humanitarian partnerships

Our four podcasts with sport and humanitarian organisations in Denmark, Italy, Sweden and the UK give in-depth insights into how new initiatives are turning power structures around and using sport and physical activity as deep integration tools.

Looking ahead

ISCA’s new IRTS Networking Platform is the result of a mapping of all EU projects focusing on IRTS. The network has gathered the lead organisations of these projects to form a more integrated network that allows them to meet each other in person and online, work together in a mentor-mentee professional development programme and learn together with an additional three online courses that build on our introductory course.

The IRTS Networking Platform was launched in June 2020 and the mentoring programme will kick off at ISCA’s first hybrid conference (in Copenhagen and online) in November 2020. A call for the second round of mentoring and an awards scheme for organisations working in IRTS will be launched in early 2021.

IRTS Networking Platform website and are designed as hubs to keep building on these initiatives and grow the network in the future.

Find out more about Integration of Refugees Through Sport here and feel free to contact our project managers for more information.

About the author: Rachel Payne is the Communications Manager at the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA). She was the lead application writer for the Erasmus+ Sport Collaborative Partnership MOVE Beyond as part of ISCA’s Integration of Refugees Through Sport initiatives.



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Rachel Payne, International Sport and Culture Association


Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 15:16