As the world continues to endure the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the multiplicity of benefits sports provide individuals, particularly those who are vulnerable, displaced or isolated, have become more evident than ever. Sport provides opportunities for participants to build resilience, boost physical health, improve psychosocial wellbeing and in some circumstances, offer belonging to those who suffer at the hands of conflict and prolonged uncertainty. While the last year has presented challenges for many sporting organisations who thrive and depend on face-to-face interaction, the sporting world has adapted and innovated to evolve in a new socially distanced capacity.
Thanks to the work of the Global Refugee Forum (‘GRF’), initiated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (‘UNHCR’), the International Olympic Committee (‘IOC’), and the Olympic Refuge Foundation (‘ORF’), displaced individuals have been provided possibilities to experience the advantages sport has to offer despite evident implications due to COVID-19.
Displaced people are those who have been forced to flee their homes as a result of events outside of their control, including conflict, human rights abuses, and natural or technological disasters. If you are internally displaced, you are able to remain within the borders of your own country, but impotent from living safely in your own home or region. Externally displaced people are more commonly known as refugees, crossing international borders to seek refuge from their circumstances.
80 entities, including UN Member States, national and international sporting federations, and civil societies and clubs form the GRF Coalition, have agreed to support three ‘chapeau pledges’ for building a better world for refugees through sport. The promotion of equal access for all refugees focuses on safe and inclusive sporting facilities, organised sports initiatives, and the offering of events and competitions at all levels. Since its launch, the ORF has reached over 200,000 displaced young people, committing last week to a four-year plan in which they will reach and provide safe sport to one million displaced people by 2024. The 11 ORF programmes currently in operation improve the wellbeing and social inclusion of displaced people, with two more to be launched this year in Colombia and France. Young refugees have been put under severe strain as a result of strict lockdown policies, with a rise in cases of gender-based violence. Programmes such as Game Connect have supported host communities in overcoming these prevalent issues.
The IOC has been mobilised in the past year to ensure they too can continue their pledge commitments, primarily through Refugee Athletes Scholarships. In 2020 the IOC supported 51 Refugee Athletes aiming to qualify for the Olympics and build a sporting career.
The Melbourne Sports Law Association commend all GRF organisations in their efforts to ensure their pledges continued throughout 2020 despite obvious obstacles. As we advance into 2021, we hope others will follow in ORF’s footsteps, making new commitments to bridge the gap for displaced people to experience the benefits of sport.
If you are interested in learning more about how Coalition members and organisations of the GRF are progressing in their pledges, please see the UNHCR website here: