Nutrition and sport and exercise

Football for refugees

Football clubs, federations, fans and governments around Europe are being urged to make the sport more accessible to refugees.

Dr Mark Doidge, Senior Research Fellow from the School of Sport and Service Management, said football was the universal language that can bring some semblance of normality to the lives of refugees and it was important refugees are given access to the game.

He was speaking on the role of football and refugees at the ‘Reinforcing, Crossing and Transcending Borders: Soccer in a Globalised World‘ conference, hosted by Olympiacos FC in Greece with Harvard University.

Dr Doidge told how he witnessed “completely inhumane” conditions inside a refugee camp in Northern France. It was guarded by armed police and the air was filled with the stench of poor sanitation and rubbish.

The southern end of the camp had been bulldozed by the French authorities but it was here Dr Doidge said he found hope: “Within that there is a space with two goal posts at either end and a load of children kicking a ball around. And there’s laughter and there’s people thinking ‘this is something normal’. This was something quite remarkable.”

Dr Doidge, a volunteer at the camp, said he was humbled when he realised the only skill he had to offer was talking about football and people’s favourite players. “Who’s the better player Messi or Ronaldo?” That was the common language, he said, a physical language that everyone could understand.

Football, he said, was not a save-all solution but it has an important role. And, he said, it was the responsibility of clubs, fans, federations and government to make it more accessible to refugees.

A main outcome of the conference was a declaration ‘Athens Principles on the Right to Participate in Sport’ to encourage football clubs, federations and non-government organisations to ensure that everyone, particularly refugees, can participate in sport.

For more on Dr Doidge’s presentation click here.

Kerry Burnett • September 13, 2017


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