An introduction to the sport for protection approach produced and championed by UNHCR - the UN Refugee Agency, the International Olympic Committee and Terre des hommes.

In 2018, UNHCR, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Swiss children's aid agency Terre des hommes (Tdh) launched the toolkit Sport for Protection: Programming with young people in forced displacement settings.

The toolkit presents the first iteration of the sport's approach to protection. It aims to provide a framework for sport, development and humanitarian actors, to guide the design and implementation of protection and development sport initiatives for children and young people affected by displacement. It also describes the essential components necessary to provide a safe, protective and supportive environment, and to achieve positive social outcomes, including social inclusion, social cohesion and psychosocial well-being.

The evolution and strengthening of the sport for protection approach is ongoing and UNHCR and the Olympic Refuge Foundation would be happy to hear and discuss any suggestions for improvement or modification, or your experiences in this area. Share your thoughts with the UNHCR sports team [email protected], the Olympic Refuge Foundation at [email protected] and sportanddev via our contact page.

1. The Warm Up: What is this toolkit all about?

Section 1 of the toolkit begins by setting out the background to the development of the sport for protection approach. It highlights that young people aged 10 to 24 make up a large proportion of displaced communities, but are often neglected. This is due to gaps in programming for this demographic and a poor understanding, in general, of the needs of youth.

Section 1 describes how the sport approach to protection is a combination of evidence-based elements from three different sectors:

  • Child protection: seeks to protect young people from harm and reduce the risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.
  • Youth Empowerment: Identify and encourage the use of youth assets and potential
  • Sport for development and peace: provides an efficient, flexible and cost-effective way to promote peace and development in all societies


Section 1 is useful for anyone who wants to learn more about the development of the toolkit, the process behind its creation, and the definitions of some of the key concepts that underpin it.

2. The scoring method: How do we protect young people through sport for protection?

Section 2 presents the theoretical and practical basis for using sport to achieve social and protection outcomes. It provides a theory of change and examines how projects, programs and interventions can help achieve positive change.

The section describes youth development models and the need to focus on identifying and developing young people's assets rather than emphasizing their deficits. Doing so provides them with leadership experience and opportunities for meaningful engagement, and provides them with capable and trusted mentors.

Section 2 highlights that creating a safe and supportive environment is crucial for all sport for protection programmes. The importance of identifying and including the most marginalized young people is also discussed, considering factors such as age, gender, disability, sexuality or others.


Section 2 is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand more about the three protection outcomes. Provides case studies and examples of how to adapt programs to particular marginalized groups. It also sets out some basic guidelines and a checklist for professionals on how to produce a safe and supportive environment.

3. The field: What are the approaches that support sports programs for protection?

The toolkit has identified four approaches that inform sports-based programming with displaced youth.

The human rights-based approach recognizes that all young people, regardless of age, gender, ability, religion, race, political opinions or documentation status, are endowed with rights by virtue of their humanity and deserve to have those rights affirmed and protected rights.

  • The socioecological approach considers the various forces (people, institutions and norms) that interact with young people and influence their well-being, either positively or negatively.
  • The protection systems strengthening approach identifies the formal and informal systems that serve to protect young people from harm and looks for ways to connect them to relevant services.
  • The Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Approach supports psychosocial wellbeing by coordinating actors to provide a full range of support services for young people.
  • There is often overlap between approaches that consider the systems, norms, institutions and actors working with young people in situations of conflict and displacement.


Section 3 is valuable for anyone who wants to gain a solid understanding of the four approaches. Provides readers with checklists, examples, and ideas that they can apply to their own programs.

4. The game plan: What are the practical steps for sports for protection programming?

Drawing on programs in different settings, Section 4 presents and analyzes crucial ideas related to project management. Explores the phases of the project management cycle and provides a framework that professionals can adapt to design and implement programs.

However, before discussing these details, the toolkit highlights topics that should influence overall programming. These include planning for sustainability, developing partnerships and engaging in advocacy activities. The other key issue is ensuring the meaningful participation of adolescents and young people.

The rest of the section includes guiding questions, case studies, academic and practical resources, and example indicators to measure impact. The section guides practitioners through the processes: how to decide areas of intervention, develop a logical framework, plan specific sessions, collect data, and evaluate a program.


Section 4 is useful for anyone looking for practical steps for project management. It helps organizations ensure that their sport-based programming with youth is effective and successful, practically demonstrating how to integrate the various approaches and methods into the project cycle.

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