social cohesion & integration
Three interesting takeaways on how sport can unite communities
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Brief summary of an academic paper by Ramón Spaaij, Associate Professor at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia and Professor at University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The next decade will be marked by large population movements – because of international crises (refugees and asylum seekers), globalization (expats), and urbanization (people moving from the countryside to the city). Cities will therefore play a vital role in the integration of their new inhabitants. Sport has often been seen as a powerful tool to unite communities and to create a sense of belonging. This academic paper by Ramón Spaaij from Victoria University and the University of Amsterdam explores the notion of ‘belonging’ through sport by analysing the specific case of Somali refugees within community football clubs in Melbourne, Australia.
The author states that sport can play a significant role in the everyday lives of young people with refugee backgrounds. His research was focused on one single community (Somalis) in one specific country (Australia) and he makes sure to specify in his paper that the findings are not believed to be capable of easy generalisation to other newly arrived communities.
However, there are three interesting takeaways for cities’ policy-makers in this paper:
1. Belonging is a complex notion that is comprised of different levels
The term ‘belonging’ doesn’t only relate to the integration of the new inhabitant in its new city. It can also mean to belong to a sports club, to a specific segment of a community, or to a subgroup of a sport community (e.g. gender group). City representatives therefore need to be able to identify which type(s) of belonging they want to create when they develop integration policies using sport.
2. Sport can help refugees to integrate, but it can also create new social barriers
In multi-ethnic sports clubs, young refugees are likely to be confronted with particular exclusionary practices that may make the creation of belonging more difficult. Policy makers therefore need to put in place policies that fight against racial discrimination towards minority ethnic groups, even within multi-ethnic sports clubs.
3. Make sure differences are recognised and acknowledged between different ethnic groups.
A key issue that is often faced is that a dominant ethnic group will fill the notion of belonging, which prevents any recognition of difference. When refugees have to assimilate to the language, culture, values and behaviour of the dominant group in order to fit in and be accepted, this involves a profound misrecognition of their plural, hybrid social identities. The key challenge for policy-makers is therefore to make the social boundaries that demarcate spaces of belonging more fully permeable and their crossing easy and equitable.
Integration of new inhabitants will definitely constitute a challenge for any city in this new era where large movements of population are foreseen. Although this paper by Ramón Spaaij looks at the specific case of the Somali refugees involved in community football in Melbourne, it offers a good understanding of the complex notion of belonging.