Young boys play soccer

A group of young men play a game of Sepak Takraw, or kick volleyball, in Kutupalong refugee settlement, Bangladesh, November 2018. © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Over 70 organizations join UNHCR and the International Olympic Committee to help young refugees discover their potential through sports.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced today that more than 70 entities – including National Olympic Committees, international sporting federations, national associations, clubs, and civil society organizations working through sport – are pledging to provide sporting opportunities to young refugees.

Recognizing the transformative power of sport, UNHCR has worked closely with the Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF) and the IOC on this global initiative, ahead of the first-ever Global Refugee Forum in Geneva on 17 and 18 December, 2019.

The three pledges are:

  • To promote and ensure access for all refugees, without distinction of any kind, to safe and inclusive sporting facilities.
  • To increase availability and access to organized sports and sport-based initiatives for refugee and hosting communities, actively considering age, gender, ability and other diversity needs.
  • To promote and facilitate equal access to and participation of refugees in sporting events and competitions at all levels.

“We wholeheartedly welcome these important commitments. They clearly demonstrate that the sporting world stands with refugees,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

“This genuinely global and collective effort is crucial for promoting sports programmes to help young refugees build confidence, their physical and mental health, discover their potential and restore the prospect of a better future.”

The President of the IOC, Thomas Bach, who will be presenting the pledges on behalf of the signatories at the upcoming Global Refugee Forum, also welcomed the support.

“Through sport, the IOC has been supporting refugees around the world for many years”, said the IOC President Thomas Bach. ”More recently, together with UNHCR, we created the Olympic Refuge Foundation. From this experience we know that for children and young people uprooted by war or persecution, sport is much more than a leisure activity”.

”The pledges that we are making today reaffirm the commitment from the sports movement and key partners – from governments to NGOs – to play their part in supporting refugees. I am pleased to see that over 70 organizations are already part of the sports coalition, and I would hope that more organizations join us in the lead-up to the Global Refugee Forum.”

Those making pledges include World Athletics, the International Judo Federation, Special Olympics and International Paralympic Committee, the Bangladesh, English and Republic of Ireland Football Associations, the AC Milan Foundation, Council of Southern Africa Football Associations, and Olympic Committees from 12 countries.

A declaration signed by those pledging recognises that for children and young people uprooted by war or persecution, sport is much more than a leisure activity. It’s an opportunity to be included and protected – a chance to heal, develop and grow.

Today’s announcement also furthers both UNHCR and partners’ commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The signatories are also calling for sports organizations around the world to join them in offering sporting opportunities to refugee and internally displaced young people, especially those living in their communities.

The full list of entities pledging and their joint statement can be found here.

Background Notes

The Global Compact on Refugees, the international framework for strengthened cooperation and solidarity with refugees and affected host countries, specifically recognizes the contribution of sport and sporting entities in the protection and well-being of refugees and the internally displaced. The sporting commitments along with other contributions will be highlighted at the forthcoming Global Refugee Forum.

For more information, please contact:

For UNHCR:

For IOC:

Originally published on UNHCR on 10 December 2019

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