For over a century, sports have been widely regarded as one of the most effective integration tools and unifying factor to reduce differences between people. Sports as an integration device is valid for populations at risk of social exclusion, be it deprived and vulnerable populations, children and adolescents, the elderly, people with disabilities, and refugees and migrants in general.
The case of refugees
Currently, many countries are using sports as a humanitarian aid tool to tackle the overwhelming and urgent to solve phenomenon of refugees. These are people who usually flee from wars, shortages of all kinds, and persecution for reasons of race, gender, nationality, politics, religion, and widespread violation of their rights. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and local committees and federations for various sports have contributed a lot to support young people seeking a better life on a planet where it is estimated that more than 1% of the population is a refugee.
The story of Farid Walizadeh
Portugal is no exception in this battle to fight inequality, poverty, and lack of opportunities. An excellent example of the country's work with some athletes is the story of Afghan Farid Walizadeh.
Farid Walizadeh, 23 years old, had a challenging life path that lead him, while separated from his family at just 8 years old, to walk through the mountains of his country, crossing Pakistan, Iran, and finally Turkey, from where, after years of waiting, he left for refuge in Portugal. Portugal received him well, and today he insists that he wants to "build a future" in the country. The future of the young Afghan, who is also studying architecture, involves the dream of joining the International Refugee Team put together by the IOC. Currently, with the support of the Portuguese Olympic Committee (POC), Farid trains boxing daily, with the same determination with which he went through all the trials, as a child, in search of a dream: "I want to receive a medal. that's why I fight every day."
The POC collaborates with various companies and institutions that work in the field providing support for all of those who arrive in Portugal. With the logistical and financial support of these companies and institutions, national and international, the POC looks to provide refugees with the opportunity to practice sports as part of local teams, thus helping to integrate and bring newcomers together with local communities.
It all starts with identifying the refugees' wishes and desires by each of the local reception structures. From here, the POC tries to provide each person with the equipment that suits the chosen sport. The next step is to find, within the sports community, clubs willing to receive athletes. Finally, in some circumstances, when the athletes' performance justifies it, the POC strives to integrate them in a more ambitious project, called Olympic Solidarity and developed by the IOC, which consists of awarding scholarships looking towards sports training at a higher level and possible integration in the International Refugee Team to participate in the Olympic Games.
Other projects using sports as an integration medium
Integration projects with sports support are multiplying in Portugal. Here are some examples:
- The Refugee Support Platform welcomed around 750 people from 100 families across the country since 2015. The Platform emphasizes the ability that sports practice has in "normalizing life" for the people it welcomes.
- The Lisbon City Council's Temporary Reception Center for Refugees also uses sports to help out refugees, recognizing that "sports is one of the most effective ways to create a new dream, a life project".
- Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa has held several editions of the Storytellers Project, allowing young people from countries in conflict to access physical and sporting activities.
- The Assistance, Development and Professional Training Foundation of Miranda do Corvo integrates people with disabilities and refugees with sports.
- The Madeira Football Association has welcomed and integrated approximately 300 000 Portuguese-Venezuelan citizens returned to the region. Many found their space in the community as athletes, coaches, and referees.