Nurturing a sense of belonging in English football
England has a comparatively modest number of people making a new life on our shores, with around 130,000 refugees currently living across the country. They are a group of diverse people from different generations, genders, ethnicities, faiths, ages, sexual orientations and abilities, whom have settled here over many decades.
As English football’s governing body, our current work in this area is predominantly targeted at those who are newly-arrived, with the emphasis on trying to impart good practice which will have a lasting impact on a personal level.
What we have found in our work so far is that the most common issue amongst refugees is their experience of trauma. With this in mind, our focus is on using football as a vehicle to help those people find a sense of belonging in their new communities and to help reduce the impact of that trauma on their everyday lives.
Since 2017, The FA has brought together a network of people and organisations who want to support this cause. Within our network there are around 200 people and organisations, falling into three categories. Firstly, there are those in the football industry who are skilled in the sport but new to refugee resettlement. Secondly, we have those who are experienced in supporting refugees first hand, but not in football, who recognise that the sport is something these communities want to participate in. Finally, we have a smaller group of people skilled in both areas, whose good practice we want to share. Simply by networking, facilitating and guiding this network, great progress has been made.
In December 2019, The FA launched its first ever strategy around supporting refugees through football as part of the UNHCR’s Global Compact on Refugees. This was a first of its kind for English football, with the core objective of making football the go-to vehicle for refugee integration, as oppose to a plan to simply get more people playing. In football we are very familiar with counting players, balls and bibs, but here the focus is importantly on supporting experiences of trauma, belonging and human impact.
Our plan has activities divided into four key pillars:
- Strategic leadership: To lead the development of integrating football and refugees
- Engagement: Creating guidance and resources for to help develop and sustain refugee football across the country
- Insight: Help inform, educate and sustain good practice
- Awareness: Raising awareness and understanding and use football to create a positive narrative around refugees in wider society
We aren’t experts on the subject of refugees, but we are gatekeepers to our national sport, which has a clear force for good to help break down barriers and unite communities.
With this in mind, we continue to work in partnership with some of the key players in this area, including the UNHCR, with which we jointly support an academic audit of refugee football in England. In addition we have been working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to help signpost every resettled refugee to local football provision.
Meanwhile, our partnership work with Amnesty International UK sees us developing a female refugee football programme across at least five English cities, as well as a training programme for coaches, through a full-time development officer on their Football Welcomes programme.
Whilst this is a first step into sport for development for The FA and we have a long way to go, it is a welcome one where we hope to ensure more communities can embrace the power of the beautiful game and can find a real sense of belonging through our national sport.
You can read more about The FA’s work in diversity and inclusion here.
About the author
Kevin Coleman is the Diversity and Inclusion Manager at The FA.