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Mapping sport and social cohesion in Europe: An exploratory study

Mapping sport and social cohesion in Europe: An exploratory study

This study conducted a mapping of assets, activities, challenges, and opportunities among organisations using sport for social cohesion in Europe.

The use of sport to promote social cohesion has grown rapidly in recent years. This includes the use of sport for social inclusion and the integration of refugees and migrants. Public, private and third sector organisations are using sport as a vehicle to advance social cohesion in various contexts.

However, there are various challenges which continue to limit our understanding as to how sport and social cohesion programmes can be most effectively designed, delivered, and measured.

As such the Sport and Social Cohesion Lab (SSCL) project, an Erasmus+ funded initiative, seeks to tackle these gaps in knowledge and implementation. The project involves the following partners:

  • German Sport University (Coordinator, Germany)
  • The international platform on sport and development (sportanddev)
  • In safe hands e.V. (Germany)
  • Sport Against Racism Ireland (Ireland)
  • Munster Technological University (Ireland)
  • The Hague University of Applied Science (Netherlands)
  • International Sports Alliance (Netherlands)
  • Palacky University Olomouc (Czechia)
  • INEX-SDA / fotbal pro Rozvoj (Czechia)
  • European Network of Sport Education (Austria)

The study

As part of this project, an exploratory study was conducted to identify common features, challenges and best practices in sport for social cohesion. This study involved a background literature review, a global survey targeted at organisations using sport for social cohesion, and in-depth questionnaires for the NGO partners in the SSCL project.

The study seeks to contribute to better understanding of social cohesion at the practitioner level, and the programmatic factors that may influence success.

Click here for the full study


Findings show that the use of sport for social cohesion has grown rapidly in recent times globally and in Europe. This is linked to the growth of the sport for development and peace (SDP) movement and changing demographic composition of European societies. Many actors and organisations across Europe are now using sport-based approaches to contribute to social cohesion goals and objectives.

However, despite this growth, there remain key limitations and discrepancies within current definitions and understandings of social cohesion. The use of sport for social cohesion exhibits a diversity of approaches, yet overall, there is a lack of evidence, transparency and understanding of these programmes. This is partly due to the fact that sport itself is a complex phenomenon, often undermined by idealistic notions of the ‘power of sport’. Further, actors using sport for social cohesion often lack the capacity needed to design, deliver, evaluate and improve their programmes.

Findings reveal that social cohesion is understood and applied in many different ways, with sport usually seen as a vehicle to enable such change. Programmes tend to target ‘vulnerable’ groups within society, including girls and women, refugees and migrants, and people with disabilities, with a particular focus on children and youth. Activities include sport-based volunteering, life skills sessions, workshops and trainings, all aimed at promoting inclusion, integration and mixing of groups.

Challenges and opportunities

Challenges and opportunities co-exist. This includes the need to build capacity among actors, especially around their ability to monitor and evaluate their work. There is a need to adopt more participatory approaches so that beneficiaries and other stakeholders are more involved throughout projects. Most interventions address individual and community issues, with limited engagement and understanding of the systemic and structural obstacles to social cohesion.

These findings will be used to strengthen the SSCL project, which aims to better understand and apply the use of sport for social cohesion across Europe. Project partners will adapt their grassroots initiatives based on these findings, and work with stakeholders to pilot a Living Lab approach in their settings. This approach will be tested, iterated and evaluated throughout, ultimately offering greater insights into the use of sport for social cohesion and implications of a Living Lab approach. Results will be shared publicly and disseminated widely, while further research is merited in this space.

Click here for the full study


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Thursday, July 29, 2021 - 11:02


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