FURD held a stimulating interim conference on 9th September as part of ‘Football – a shared sense of belonging?’, its 3 year research project looking at how sport can help refugees and other new migrants settle into their new community.
Dr Steven Bradbury from Loughborough University gave an overview of research into the outcomes of sports based community interventions, which include better physical and mental health, increased self-esteem, better language skills, teamwork and self-discipline and community cohesion.
Dr Chris Stone, lead researcher on the project, discussed the meanings of belonging for all of us and gave examples of how high a priority forming or joining a football team is for some people when resettling.
Volunteers from the City of Sanctuary movement then led a myth-busting exercise with some surprising facts and figures about the numbers, origins and destinations of refugees and asylum-seekers around the world.
Two speakers from World United, an intercultural football club based in Belfast, then shared their experiences. The club aims to bring together refugees, asylum-seekers, minority ethnic groups and local Catholics and Protestants under the motto ‘fun -friendship – football’, and runs both male and female teams.
This was followed by a presentation from members of Iraqi Forever, a Sheffield-based football team formed by Iraqi refugees who were resettled under the United Nations Gateway Protection programme in 2009. They described football as ‘a message of peace’ which is helping to unite Iraq, so they wanted to continue that philosophy in the UK. There was some discussion of tensions between those who play for recreation and those who want to play more competitively, and the importance of initiatives like flexi-leagues for engaging less well established groups.
A female perspective was then shared by a member of DEWA (Development and Empowerment for Women’s Advancement), which is setting up a ‘Girl Power’ project for 15-20-year-olds, which they hope will include sporting opportunities.
A female refugee from Chile also spoke enthusiastically about her experiences as a devoted Sheffield United fan, following them home and away. She described the club as an extension of her childhood in Chile when she went to matches with her dad, and she feels that football has given her a real integration into Sheffield life.
The conference ended with a discussion of how sport can help people feel included or excluded, what kind of activities can help new arrivals to feel welcome, what barriers to sporting involvement can be faced by new arrivals, and how sports organisations can help to overcome these barriers.
More information about the research project can be read by following the link below, or by containing Chris Stone at FURD.