Football can bring people together, foster mutual understanding and break down prejudices. A total of 65 million people around the world have been driven from their homes - 9 out of every 1,000 people worldwide. While some countries are more affected than others this forced migration has sparked a global debate spanning social, cultural, economic political and environmental issues.
As the world's most popular sport and one that is deeply embedded in the fabric of society, football has been affected by this global crisis, yet also has the potential to help alleviate it. Many of UEFA's member associations have been directly impacted and have sought to improve matters in their countries.
Against that background representatives of various national associations recently attended a UEFA Study Group Scheme seminar entitled Football and Refugees with the express intention of learning from one another as well as from other relevant experts and organisations, and addressing this issue in the most effective manner possible.
The seminar, which took place in the Republic of Ireland from 3 to 6 April and was organised in cooperation with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), brought together representatives of 21 member associations, as well as delegates from expert NGOs and universities, to discuss challenges and share good practice when using football to help refugees.
Visits to futsal leagues, open training sessions, and coaching and volunteering programmes for refugees in the Galway and Athlone areas brought the topic to life. Open and candid discussions with local stakeholders on the history of their programmes deepened participants' understanding of the benefits and challenges of such initiatives. Laura Easton, football development manager at the Football Association of Wales Trust, shared her main conclusions with the organisers after the seminar:
- Everybody has the right to play and enjoy football.
- Every association has a responsibility to champion the sport and provide opportunities for all.
- To engage with vulnerable groups, it helps if you can find an authoritative voice within the relevant community who can speak to people on your behalf.
- You need to build trust.
- It is important to be aware of - and use - networks outside football to support your activities.
- You need to create a long-term pathway for people who want to play regularly. It is about more than just providing short-term programmes.
- It is important to nurture and develop the skills of people in the local community, so they can carry on the work without the national association having to be there all the time.
Hosting this UEFA study visit provided a great opportunity for us to share what we do and, perhaps just as importantly, to hear from, network with and learn from other associations, UEFA and other partners,
said Des Tomlinson, national coordinator for the FAl's intercultural football programme and host of the seminar. He concluded,
These three days gave us time to reflect on, debate and digest some of the key considerations when seeking to get people with refugee backgrounds involved in football.
Our study visit took participants on a road trip through Ireland, providing them with first-hand experience of how our refugee football programmes are delivered, with the support of clubs and other community stakeholders. They also met some of the people - both within the FAI and in our clubs and communities - who contribute to the success of these programmes.
The overall aim was to share our good practices with other associations, and one of the legacies of this visit will be a compendium of good practices, which is currently being compiled by UEFA."