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Research based interventions in the sports ecosystem

Copyrights: James Moore200

Research based interventions in the sports ecosystem

Inclusive and collaborative research is needed to better address the needs of forcibly displaced people.

The sports ecosystem is very vast and includes anyone who believes in the power of sports – fans, organisers, decision makers, volunteers, athletes and many other stakeholders. his ecosystem also includes scholars and researchers.

I believe that knowledge and awareness play an important role in the implementation of any initiative. These are some of the most important tools that can help the sports ecosystem make better decisions and design more effective programs and policies.

One of the ways in which the sports ecosystem can better address the challenges and deeply complex issues that are faced by refugees and forcibly displaced people is through knowledge production.

Today, there are more than 26.3 million refugees globally. However, only 17% of these refugees are hosted by high income countries. In contrast, a critical analysis of the literature surrounding the field of sports and refugees and forced migration conducted by Spaaij et al. (2019) revealed that most of the research was conducted in Europe and as little as 6% of the research was done in the Global South. The analysis also found that very little research was done in collaboration with the refugees and people facing forced displacement. Therefore, one of the ways in which the sports ecosystem can be better equipped to address the needs of marginalised and socially excluded groups is by providing them with agency to share their stories.

This knowledge can help create better informed policies which can tackle local needs and point to the commonalities and diversities of the issues that can be encountered in using sports as a tool of social development.

Sport for good initiatives are driven by singular stories rather than critical research. There is a need for us to critically evaluate and conduct more social research than focusing on isolated individual success stories (Coakley, 2011). Therefore, more informed research in collaboration with the marginalised groups could help provide the foundation for better formulated policies.

Inclusive and collaborative research is also important because it can address the gaps and issues that are easily looked over. For instance, Dowling (2019) conducted a study in the Norwegian context to find that there is a huge emphasis on the identity of ‘us’ and ‘them’ accompanied by a fear of refugees. Even the sports activities offered are oriented towards the Norwegian context, which might be of interest or familiar to the refugees such as ice skating or ice hockey.

In their research of people who were forced to migrate and seek refuge in the Dutch reception centres, Waardenburg et al. (2019) found several factors impacting and deciding the participation of the refugees in these ‘liminal’ spaces. They found that the reason for participation within the centre was mostly out of boredom and the need to occupy time rather than a passion for sports. Moreover, some of the refugees felt that they were able to find more social connections, a temporary escape, integrate with the society and get a break from the identity of a ‘refugee’ and all the negative connotations attached to it when they participated in the sporting activities outside of the centre.

This research can also be helpful to train the volunteers, mentors and coaches who work in various systems across the world. Through my own experience of interning with community sports initiative, research revealed that participants appreciated that they were always welcomed and respected.

The key role in maintaining this safe environment belongs to mentors and coaches. Even before socialising with fellow sports participants, mentors have an impact and and create an impression on the newcomers. Thus, emphasis must be on the training of facilitators and mentors to better prepare them to provide a safe space for learning and engaging in sports. This training can have universal principles; however, it must contain methods and knowledge about the local context to equip them with the necessary skills and tools.

Therefore, one of the ways that can be better utilised by the sports ecosystem is to focus on collaborative and inclusive research that reshapes the hierarchy in knowledge formation. Spaaij et al. provide that “there is no ‘one- size-fits-all' approach to understanding the relationship between sport and integration” (2019, p.10).  There is a lot of potential for us to learn from the various models that are around the world and adopt them to make them relevant to the needs of the grassroots. There is space for more extensive research that points out the need for more informed research which takes into account the culture and organisation of sports (Coakley, 2011). 



Coakley, J. (2011). Youth sports: What counts as “positive development?”. Journal of sport and social issues, 35(3), 306-324.

Dowling, F. J. (2019). A critical discourse analysis of a local enactment of sport for integration policy: Helping young refugees or self-help for voluntary sports clubs?. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, under utgivelse. doi:10.1177/1012690219874437

Spaaij, R., Broerse, J., Oxford, S., Luguetti, C., McLachlan, F., McDonald, B., ... & Pankowiak, A. (2019). Sport, refugees, and forced migration: A critical review of the literature. Frontiers in sports and active living, 1, 47.

Waardenburg, M., Visschers, M., Deelen, I., & Van Liempt, I. (2019). Sport in liminal spaces: The meaning of sport activities for refugees living in a reception centre. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 54(8), 938-956.

No author. Who is a refugee, a migrant or an asylum seeker? (2022) Amnesty International. Available at:


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Sugandha Vats


Wednesday, November 23, 2022 - 13:06

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