Olympic Movement endorses World Refugee Day
Today is World Refugee Day 2014. The International Olympic Committee, which has been working in close collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the last two decades, is committed to continuing to provide support and humanitarian sports assistance to refugees and internally displaced people, thus bringing the joy of sport and the related psychological healing to refugee populations.
While the most urgent needs include the provision of food and health services, sport can indeed play an important role for improving mental and physical health. For refugee populations, which are largely composed of young people and children, leisure and physical activities can improve their physical capacities, and give them a sense of enjoyment and hope; it can bring a semblance of normality and structure to their lives in disarray, as well as relieve tensions and fears among people having to live together in camps and settlement.
Over the years, the IOC and the United Nations (UN) have cultivated a strong relationship, which most recently resulted in the signing of a historical agreement aimed at strengthening collaboration between the two organisations at the highest level. On this occasion, the UN also appointed IOC Honorary President Jacques Rogge as Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Youth Refugees and Sport in order to raise the profile of youth refugees and the impact of sport as a tool for peace, development and an inclusive society. The field visits of Special Envoy Rogge will include heading to Jordan in the coming months to meet with Syrian refugees and assess the benefits of sports-based initiatives for youth refugees and local communities.
Earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held a bilateral meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach at the IOC headquarters, where the two leaders discussed a number of issues and joint actions. Looking ahead, the IOC, with the collaboration of the UN, hopes to build on their years of experience working together on bringing sports initiatives into refugee camps and internally displaced settlements in order to identify, train and assist, with the support of Olympic Solidarity, promising athletes with the potential to qualify for future Olympic Games.
TRANSLATING OLYMPIC IDEALS INTO REALITY
Through its continued collaboration with the UNHCR , the IOC has already seen thousands of refugees benefit from sports programmes and equipment.
Since 2004, the IOC and UNHCR have organised a “Giving is Winning” programme in the run-up to the Summer Olympic Games. This world-wide solidarity campaign has become an iconic experience through which athletes, officials and sponsors of the Olympic Games, National Olympic Committees (NOCs), International and National Federations, and other Olympic Movement stakeholders have expressed their support for young people, particularly in refugee camps, by donating tens of thousands of clothing items for people in need. The campaign has already collected over 170,000 items of clothing, or close to 36 containers, which have reached refugees in 23 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.
Over 2013 and 2014, the IOC, Worldwide Olympic Partner Samsung and the UNHCR have joined forces to distribute IOC Sports Kits to more than 180,000 young people living in camps for refugees and internally displaced in 20 countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Sports Kit developed by the IOC contains basic sports and recreational material for about 300 kids, such as various balls, bibs, caps, shirts and chalk to mark the field. This equipment is sufficient to set up organised sports activities in very diverse settings such as in schools as well as in camps and settlements, and has benefitted hundreds of thousands of children around the world through various programmes promoting sport for development.
In Namibia, the IOC and UNHCR, together with the local NOC, implemented a Sport and Education programme for some 8,500 young people living in the Osire refugee settlement in the centre of the country. The programme was specifically designed to involve young people in sports activities in order to alleviate some of the major problems affecting them, namely teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (such as HIV), and drug abuse.