As the COVID-19 pandemic began to send the world into lockdown earlier this year, it put paid to the possibility for whole populations to practise sport. That sport and exercise, so fundamental to health and well-being, were curtailed during a global health crisis was ironic indeed. One group for whom this absence of sport and exercise would have been acutely felt is refugee populations, who often rely on physical exercise as part of their livelihoods and self-identity, and to connect with other members of the community.
As 15-year-old Nisreen, a young refugee in Jordan explained, “The most difficult part of adapting to COVID-19 quarantine was the lack of sports practice and the limit on gathering due to social distancing.”
In view of the exceptional and challenging situation, the Olympic Refuge Foundation Board devised a COVID-19 response to adjust to the unusual context. Using as its basis the notion that the best way to respond to the crisis would be to seek solutions from the very community it was seeking to help, the Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF) appealed to its stakeholders.
The result was a wealth of suggestions that resulted in the ORF providing an additional USD 500,000 in funding for projects to assist vulnerable communities.
Among the initiatives being supported by ORF funding are support for mental well-being and the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in Uganda and Jordan, both of which are being exacerbated by the pressures of COVID-19 and the restrictions in place.
In Uganda, this is enabling the AVSI Foundation to roll out Strong, Fit and Empowered (SaFE), to improve young people and coaches’ psychosocial and economic well-being in the face of COVID-19. Meanwhile, Youth Sport Uganda (YSU) is developing a model for family sport to be delivered by coaches to refugee households in the Kampala slums, encouraging families to stay at home, increase bonding, reduce tension and keep safe while engaging in sport.
Meanwhile, in Jordan, the NGO Generations for Peace has been digitising key elements of the ORF-supported Sport For Peace, Life Skills and Social Cohesion project that has been running in 108 schools and 76 youth centres since early 2019. Nisreen, who is part of the ACCESS programme delivered by the ORF-supported NGO Right to Play, is once again able to take part in sport thanks to “Play@Home”, an initiative designed to ensure that participants and their families receive support to improve their psychosocial well-being and that project participants, especially girls, have access to protection and safety networks.
Commenting on all these initiatives, Pur Biel, a member of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team and an ORF Board member, explains, “Sport is a tool of sharing, for better health.”
As we celebrate World Refugee Day, we are reminded that, while sport is resuming and communities can play again, forcibly displaced young people across the globe do not have access to safe sport. The Olympic Refuge Foundation reaffirms its commitment to ensuring that one million forcibly displaced young people will have access to safe sport by 2024.