Promoting rugby and sports development with refugees in Austria
Sport is one of the best ambassadors to promote human rights and inclusion of all. Through sport, people learn values that cross gender, nationality, age or even physical condition. It is now paramount to build stronger bridges to advocate for sport as a Human Right to pledge to defend and to promote it.
Sports are closely connected to the definition of many human rights: the right to education, the right to culture, the right to health and wellbeing as well as the right to political participation. Sport is envisioned to be practiced without any kind of discrimination, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Sport can easily transmit many positive values, such as fairness, team building, equality, discipline, inclusion, perseverance and respect, all of which can be found in the Olympic Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Charter for Fundamental Rights.
With the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, international federations together with World Rugby recognised the power of sport to act as a catalyst for peace and societal development. The Rugby Opens Borders (ROB) initiative by Rugby Union Donau Wien together with the global rugby family, promotes the use of rugby to improve lives and communities of asylum seekers, refugees and people with a migrant background. In the context of the Spirit of Rugby programme, with ROB partners World Rugby and Rugby United Köln, we work together to grow the global rugby family and the vision of rugby being a sport for all, true to its values discipline, respect, integrity, passion and solidarity.
The ROB initiative promotes intercultural exchange and integration through sporting challenges. Independent of origin, size, weight or gender, everyone is welcomed by rugby with open arms. ROB offers young refugees and migrants the opportunity to be part of the local rugby community. Its holistic integration concept is built upon special weekly training designed for this group, which culminate in “get togethers” involving cooking and eating in the clubhouse, allowing integration to happen. Here we do not just communicate the great values and principles of rugby, but also give the refugees the opportunity to talk with our care/coaching team and mingle with other young local players. The main focus of the project is to assist building social links in our country.
According to UNHCR's report Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2019, 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide in 2019 as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order. An estimated 30-34 million (around 40%) of those people were aged below 18. During crises and displacement, young people are at risk of exploitation and abuse, especially when they are unaccompanied or separated from their families. These young people not only face hardship in their forced displacement, but once settled in a country they struggle with long waiting times for their legal situation to get resolved, long periods of time to access language courses or further education, not to mention the general not to mention the general hostile public image created by populism and media.
ROB seeks to minimise these struggles through the practice of the sport. Weekly trainings occupy their time whilst giving them the opportunity to practice the language, as well as meeting new people, making new friends and being part of the local rugby family. The regular practice of sport promotes healthy living habits alongside a new sportive challenge and the opportunity to compete all together under the same shirt. It furthers the feeling of belonging and builds upon the rugby values of discipline and team work. In addition, ROB offers several social activities on and off the field which are often deeply grounded on the principles of equality, solidarity and respect.
Through our cooperation with the stakeholder and partner organisations clubs, we have realised the need to widen our work, share our good practices and learn from other unique initiatives in the future ROB would like to see more international cooperation, with wider networks against discrimination, racisim, xenophobia, similar to those in football. This network could provide the aforementioned advantages for young refugees and people with a migrant background, but also serve as a pool of knowledge for coaches and volunteers as well as to share knowledge amongst development organisations working with refugees.
About the Author: Ana Ruiz is the Head of project of Rugby Opens Borders, she is a passionate human rights activist who defends strongly the advantages of using sport as a tool not just for integration, but also for achieving better practices on human rights issues.