A partnership approach: Sport and refugees
A partnership approach: Sport and refugees
The Football Club Social Alliance (FCSA) is a network of European football clubs that team up for social change on a global level. They use the unifying power and values of football to empower young people from conflict and crisis regions.
Unfortunately, more and more people are being forced to flee their homes due to conflict, crisis or persecution. The consequences of these events leave psychological scars and a growing health challenge, which if left unaddressed can impede development efforts. To tackle this situation, the FCSA entered into a valuable partnership with the UNHCR in 2017. To date, the partnership has seen the delivery of projects in Mexico (2019/2020), Rwanda (2017/2018) and Lebanon (2017/2018).
Through a holistic approach of combining football coaching with life and soft skills, programme participants (also known as young coaches) receive expert knowledge on how to use football as a tool to positively influence the lives for children. During a year-long education, the young coaches become more than just football coaches for children. They become people of trust, role models and mentors to them. By offering attractive programmes that combine football and educational games, the young coaches work with children on a variety of social issues (e.g. activities promoting social cohesion, inclusion, health and hygiene, and child protection). At the same time, they build a child's confidence, improve their interpersonal skills and enhance their general wellbeing.
As with any project, it is important that the content and approach is tailored to the needs of the local community. For example, in Lebanon, the aim was to promote social cohesion within the host community. Therefore, it was important to train participants from Lebanon and the refugee population (Syrians and Iraqis). In Rwanda, participants were selected from six different camps across the country with a focus on supporting child protection measures through the facilitation of sport and play-based activities. In Mexico, the project took a slightly different approach with an added emphasis on selecting young coaches who could immediately pass on their knowledge to other people. All three projects were united in their efforts to promote integration and social development.
The FCSA/UNHCR education improves how the young coaches handle and support children:
“I understand the needs of the children more. How to handle them, be a support to them and to provide a safe place for them. They see me more as a coach who can teach them things, but they are always teaching me new things also. I think now we can handle problems together and we can talk about important issues like human rights, health or violence. We can discuss these topics while doing something which is fun for them, so they can see that it is ok to be talking about these things.” – female young coach, Mexico
Furthermore, an emphasis in all projects is put on the young coaches passing on knowledge and influencing other people. An example from Rwanda highlights how young coaches trained to work in refugee camps are now influencing people in the host community: “They [the young coaches] opted to go outside of the camp to the district which has far better football pitches. […] This is also part of their integration because we do not want to run only refugee programmes. We also want to include the host communities. So, through your training and your facilitation, the young Coaches together with other refugees – because they have influenced others – are going to the host communities to run sport and recreation.” – local coordinator, Rwanda
During the education, young coaches learn how to plan, structure, and deliver activities with children of different ages and abilities. They also learn how to utilise the space and equipment they have available. This is particularly important, especially as space can often be hard to come by when faced with large numbers of children in a camp setting or limited space in an urban setting.
In Mexico, it was apparent that the young coaches working with refugees and asylum seekers faced additional challenges associated with delivery. For example, the attendance of children can fluctuate from week to week due to the general nature of people being on the move. Sometimes the young coaches are faced with small groups; the next week they can have a much larger group with children of varying ages and abilities.
Global Refugee Forum pledge
In June 2020, the FCSA renewed its pledge to continue supporting young refugees, which was made at the Global Refugee Forum. The role of young coaches in creating safe spaces for children to play, learn and interact is vital, especially in the context of forced displacement. As young people are the changemakers in their camps and host communities, the FCSA calls for a more collective, collaborative intervention not only in the sport sector but across all sectors.