Sporting World pledges to support the inclusion and protection of refugees at quadrennial forum focused on refugees
The Global Refugee Forum (GRF), the largest global gathering in support of refugees, took place on 13-15 December 2023 in Geneva. As part of the forum, the Government of Colombia and the Sport for Refugees Coalition co-convenors (Scort Foundation, the Olympic Refuge Foundation and UNHCR) co-hosted a high-level event called Breaking Barriers: Realizing the Potential of Sport for Inclusion and Protection.
In recent months, sport organizations and other entities that have been supporting refugees with and through sport have been invited to submit commitments toward the Multistakeholder Pledge on Sport for Inclusion and Protection. The Multistakeholder pledge was subsequently announced at the GRF by the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach. Bach explained during opening remarks that more than 100 entities have so far submitted sport focused commitments in support of refugees and the communities that host them. These are valued at over $45 million and will reach more than 500,000 people over the next 4 years. The 2023 GRF marks the starting point of this global effort and interested organizations are still invited to join the Sport Pledge and submit their own commitments.
“In sport, as in real life, you always need a team around you.” Bach said. “Otherwise, you cannot achieve anything. So what I would like to do here is to invite you to join the team, to join the Sport for Refugees Coalition.”
The high-level event featured opening interventions from Khalida Popal, Founder (founder, Girl Power Foundation), Gerald Mballe (Special Advisor for Unified Refugee Programmes, Special Olympics International) and Masoma Ali Zada (Olympic cyclist, Refugee Olympic Team), who shared the impact sport has had on their lives and careers.
Mballe fled his country of origin due to violence, becoming involved in Special Olympics when he arrived by boat to Italy. He joined a Special Olympics Italy Unified football club and competed at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. “This was totally new to me,” he said. “And it was the difference that helped me to overcome my challenges. They helped me to go out of my comfort zone and pursue my goals with a refreshed and renewed outlook. And most importantly, sport helped me, sport helped shift and transform my life from an anxious and traumatized asylum seeker to the first-ever advisor of the Special Olympics refugee platform. […] But if we don't invest, we don't collaborate, we don't raise awareness, we don't apply an equality approach, then the sport has failed.”
A wide range of actors then took to the floor, sharing their own pledges. They represented governments, intergovernmental organisations, NGOs, universities and sports federations, and some example commitments are below.
Government of Colombia (represented by Elizabeth Taylor Jay):
- Established safe spaces known as 'leisure homes,' where 4,000 children and youth aged 6 to 17 engage in sport and education, transforming their free time into meaningful experiences.
- Foster international partnerships to transform these homes into 'peace houses,' promoting peaceful coexistence through sport, culture, and memory building.
- Promote diplomacy through sport and culture as a way for reconciliation, social inclusion, intercultural dialogue, and peaceful coexistence.
International Paralympic Committee (Kristina Molloy):
- Work with the organisation’s large network of members, including sports federations and national Paralympic committees from across 183 countries, to promote and facilitate access to inclusive sport for refugees and displaced persons with disabilities.
- Lead and support the pathway for refugee athletes to compete in the Paralympic Games.
- Support the refugee team for the upcoming 2024 Paralympic Games (in partnership with the Government of France and Airbnb).
Tambai Zimbabwe (Martin Dururu):
- Implement sport activities for inclusion, transformation and empowerment, involving both refugee and host community participants.
- Refurbish existing and new sport facilities, provide sports equipment and transport, participate in national and international activities, provide pathways for talented participants, and work in an accountable way.
- Complement the Government of Zimbabwe’s efforts and collaborate with sport bodies, refugees and other stakeholders.
German Sport University (Sally-Ann Jennifer Fischer):
- Increase efforts in exploring the role of sport in the refugee context through participatory research in which we value the contributions and perspective of refugees and displaced people.
- Deliver more teaching activities discussing the role of sport in the refugee context, thereby, actively engaging students with this issue.
- Disseminate research including setting up knowledge-sharing activities in the global sport for development community as well as engaging the university’s wider academic network and encouraging them to do the same.
UNESCO (Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores):
- Work with the public and private sectors to develop concrete programmes aimed at mainstreaming inclusive approaches to policy and programme design.
- Organise a Fit for Life run for gender equality, engaging refugee communities, the sports industry and others; this will help mobilise funds for the inclusion and empowerment of female refugees through and within sport.
- Strengthen the evidence base to social inclusion by collecting data in a unique global sports survey on current government policies, strategy, action plans, and guidelines which facilitate refugee access to and participation in sport.
Sports organisations around the world still have the chance to submit commitments to the Multistakeholder Pledge on Sport for Inclusion and Protection and join the Sport for Refugees Coalition. This Pledge represents a refreshed perspective on the many ways that sport can contribute to improved lives for refugees and the communities that host them, building on the Sport Pledge launched at the inaugural GRF in 2019.
Developed by a multi-stakeholder reference group from the sport sector and beyond, this pledge is based on a shared belief and concrete evidence that sport can make substantial contributions to a brighter future for refugees. Submitting commitments will also provide you with visibility and networking opportunities, through being a member of the Sport for Refugees Coalition.
For more information on the Sport Pledge and how you can submit commitments, please read the guidance note: