Using sport to integrate displaced persons into new societies
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footballers share a joke on the pitch
A research program in sociology aims to analyze the practices and experiences within sports programs for migrants in Europe.

This article introduces my PhD research work on sport and displacement, which started on 1 September 2020. It will examine the philosophy of sports programs for migrants in Europe, and how they are experienced by migrants. All categories of migrants are considered (asylum seekers, refugees or rejected immigrants) in order to highlight possible differences in political treatment, or the meaning that migrants give to these sports programs.

Sport is often seen in the media or public opinion as an apolitical field. However, getting migrants involved in sport-for-development programs is undoubtedly a political action. Indeed, these programs physically mobilize migrants in order to affect their situations or dispositions for integration into the host society. In addition, these programs often mention a wide variety of goals beyond social inclusion. 

The first axis of this project aims to understand the political dimension of these sports programs for migrants in different European countries. The objective is to determine the extent to which these proposals for physical and sports activities reflect what the institution expects from an asylum seeker or refugee, in terms of commitments to inclusion. In other words, it is a question of measuring how the various practices and innovations in the field of sport for refugees fit into or contradict the institutional treatment of migrants. By establishing an inventory of the associations that use sport to welcome migrants to Europe, I aim to bring out recurring differences between countries in the philosophy, objectives and practices of sports programs, while analyzing their position within the country's migrant reception policy. 

This research aims to analyze multiple European countries with different migration policies, to understand if these differences have an impact on sports governing bodies and sporting practices. For example, some sport programs pursue ambitious objectives of transforming migrants in order to change their readiness to integrate, while others propose sports activities as ends in themselves, allowing for migrants to enjoy the sport and physical activity.

A second axis of the research is to understand how the migrants themselves respond to these programs. Indeed, the effects of these programs on the migrants have a political dimension.  

Sociology has noted that effects are socially determined. The aim here is to study the role of effects in the process of social categorization. Sensitivities expressed can then be consistent or relatively contradictory with the institution's expectations. For example, the asylum procedure often encourages the public sharing of emotions of fear or sadness, and the use of these emotions to prove the veracity of their story. Public and uninhibited expression of sensations of pleasure and well-being reflect the difference between how administrative procedures want to perceive migrants as, and of the migrants themselves enjoying sporting moments. These sport programs could, therefore, allow migrants to negotiate, transform and reappropriate the social categorization of migrants.

Finally, this work studies the short-term effects of sport for social development programs on the sensitivities of migrants. This could help to establish and share knowledge on the effects of the conditions of sport practice on displaced people. 

Julien Puech is a PhD student at the University of Rennes 2, formerly at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Rennes in Sport Sciences and Physical Education. His PhD program analyzes the practices of sport for development through a sociology of the sensitive, under the direction of François Le Yondre (University of Rennes 2) and Jane Freedman (University of Paris 8). Any questions, remarks, or proposals can be sent to [email protected]

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]


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

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