The role of sport in the COVID-19 refugee response
On June 10th, 2020, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducted a webinar exploring the situation for children and youth in the COVID-19 response and recovery phase. Continuing a series of webinars on displacement and the Covid-19 pandemic, UNHCR explored the situation for children and youth and the role of sport and sports organizations in the COVID-19 response and recovery. The online consultation was entitled "Displaced children and youth and the role of sport during the Covid-19 Pandemic.”
The webinar featured a host of different speakers from various backgrounds. Mr. Ignacio Packer, Executive Director of International Council of Voluntary Agencies opened the meeting and shared his personal experience on the role of sport in the current crisis. He was followed by UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Mr. Raouf Mazou who shared an overview on UNHCR’s response to the COVID-19 situation stating: “We have so far not seen an outbreak in refugee camps. We hope this will continue. This is a result of the work of many partners, some on this call, which have done a lot in preparing and informing refugees and persons of concern. We worked very closely with authorities to make sure that refugees are included in the response that is provided by the government.”
Ms. Amanda Melville, the Senior Advisor Children and Youth at UNHCR, outlined the implications of the current crisis on displaced children and youth globally. She explained that the difficult conditions facing displaced people have been exacerbated by the pandemic. She provided examples of gaps in access to education, a significantly increased risk of, and increase in, violence and abuse of young people, and the impact of unemployment and stringent economic measures. She further shared how UNHCR has been supporting young people, discussing a few core actions in the process.
Following this scene setting, the webinar featured speakers from organisations working in different situations across the world. The presentations began with Ms. Maria Bray - the Global Advisor on Child Protection and Mental Health & Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) at Terre des hommes (Tdh) - who shared the challenges facing their work and how they have adapted. She spoke of the importance of a safe and supportive environment and shared the steps Tdh has taken across its projects. Referring to their project “Kabaddi for Empowerment” in the state of West Bengal, India, she said, “we are currently working on designing a curriculum that can be done by youth themselves that would imply physical and more informal recreational activities. Remote counselling has been put in place also with some of the youth we were working with.”
She was followed by Ms. Lea Hinnen, Project Manager at the Football Club Social Alliance/ Scort Foundation. Having been a footballer herself, Ms. Hinnen spoke of her organisation’s role in dealing with conditions presented by the pandemic. She shared how her organisation has reached out to young coaches and local partners to understand the challenges, specifically in countries where they work with refugees – Mexico, Lebanon, Rwanda and Ukraine. Scort Foundation has adapted by setting up remote coaching sessions, providing live streams, and plan to set up an e-learning platform for coaches. She emphasised the need to stay engaged with local partners throughout the situation and beyond.
Following the mention of local partners, the third presentation was given by Mr. Joshua Opolot, the Executive Director of Youth Sport Uganda, an organisation based in Kampala, Uganda, working with urban refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). He shared the unique challenges faced of working in congested contexts, especially in relation to social distancing and sanitary conditions. For dealing with the pandemic, he said, “we designed a sport model where mothers and fathers act as coaches and moderators. We have designed simple games that can be played within a family and these games can be done in less space and encourage social distancing. There have been messages in the games.”
Ms. Jojo Ferris, Head of Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF) highlighted the seismic challenges that the pandemic has presented. These challenges ranged from the postponement of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, to the hiatus in sports-based programming around the world. She shared the associated challenges for the ORF and its partners. Through its resources, the ORF has been able to support local partners with a flexible funding approach, including the release of an additional $500,000 to encourage existing partners to design solutions to the present situation and beyond.
The four speakers were followed by an enlightening questioning and answer session which added to the quality of the discussion. The webinar featured people from different global and local organisations, providing a holistic perspective on how displaced people have been affected by the pandemic, and the role that sport has to play in the recovery and response.