The COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to empower refugees through sport
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FLAG21, a Geneva-based association working to empower refugees through sport, took to YouTube to continue their activities and expand their reach in light of the pandemic.

FLAG21 is a Geneva based association founded in 2017 with the aim to facilitate the social inclusion of refugees through and in sport. One of the main activities are the weekly trainings in Parc des Eaux-Vives, Geneva led by our dedicated coaches, all with a refugee background. FLAG21 strongly believes that empowering migrants is an important aspect of the social inclusion process allowing them – among others – to initiate activities and processes that can facilitate their self-control, strengthen their self-esteem and self-image, and improve their knowledge and skills[1].

The COVID-19 crisis imposed a halt to the weekly trainings and the in-person interactions which are essential to social inclusion and make FLAG21 successful. However, during the lockdown, the team took up an innovative challenge to continue its mission. We created a FLAG21 YouTube channel and implemented 15-minute training videos called FLAG21@Home, released every Saturday to replace the usual outdoor trainings. Since the COVID environment was quite stressful, we decided to produce the videos not only in French, but also in the mother tongues of our coaches to make everyone feel at home: Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish and Tigrinya.

Releasing videos in 5 different languages spoken by most refugees in Geneva was aimed to expand the reach of FLAG21 to various communities outside of the canton and even the country. But this experience was also a fantastic opportunity for our coaches to develop news skills such as video-calling with Zoom or producing “home-made” YouTube content based on self-recorded trainings videos. During our weekly Zoom calls, they have also learned to provide constructive feedback to each other, proposed ideas related to the content of the videos and voiced their opinion if they disagreed. Our members watching the videos also noticed the quality improvement over the six weeks those sessions were produced and released.

The FLAG21@Home project reinforced the team spirit in the group and among coaches. “I feel like being part of a family”: this is probably the most rewarding compliment we have received from a coach during our weekly team meetings. This experience also contributed to increase the degree of autonomy of our coaches. They became more self-reliant actors for positive social change in their communities.

We have been able to resume the trainings in the park at the beginning of the summer which makes our runners community extremely happy. We can also say that we have tried our best to continue FLAG21's mission during the crisis, which is a testimony to the fact that the association has a positive impact on its members.

About the authors:

Marie-Luce Claes joined FLAG21 as a member in 2018 and its committee in March 2019. In parallel to her career in banking and transition to philanthropy, she has been involved for a long time in local and global initiatives which foster acceptance and inclusion. Adding sport to it makes FLAG21 the perfect match for her.

Jérôme Berthoud is part of the founding members of FLAG21. Researcher and project manager at the University of Lausanne (IDHEAP), specialised in sport and diversity, he sees his participation to this project as a possibility to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and practical activities.

FLAG21 media content:



All Sports
Sustainable Development Goals
10 - Reduced Inequalities
Target Group
Displaced Persons

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