Not just sport, but quality sport for refugees – ASPIRE trainings resumed in Belgium

Updated: Feb 17, 2019

History and the present shook hands on 29 January 2019, as the fourth training session of the ASPIRE project took place in Mechelen, Belgium. The event was organised by Flanders Sports Agency, the Belgian ASPIRE project partner, at the Dossin Kazerne, which served as a detention center for people destined for concentration camps during World War II. Today, the site has been turned into an impressive holocaust and human rights museum.

After a welcome coffee on the top floor, Philippe Paquay, Director-General of Flanders Sports Agency, and Christophe Busch, Director-General of Kazerne Dossin, gave their welcome words to the 60-strong group of interested sportspeople from clubs, federations, NGOs, municipalities, government agencies and universities. Dirk De Cock from the Flanders Integration Agency presented some key facts and figures regarding refugees in Belgium. ENGSO Policy Director Kaisa Larjomaa presented the ASPIRE project, explaining some of the activities and inviting the participants to join the movement on social media and at the Final Conference in Frankfurt on 14 June 2019.

Philippe Paquay, Director-General of Flanders Sports Agency greeting the participants

ASPIRE facilitators Lillemor Lindell and Sofia B. Karlsson offered the Swedish perspective to inclusion in sports. They presented their experiences from the past ten years – the discussions and actions that have taken place to make sport inclusive in Sweden. The Swedish Sports Confederation has concentrated on the norms that determine, who are present in the sports fields and board rooms – and tried to break them so that everyone would feel welcome in sport.

After a lively networking lunch with a view over sunny Mechelen, three sportspeople with a refugee background gave their views on how sport helped them build their new lives in Belgium. Taekwondoka Raheleh Asemani arrived in Belgium 6 years ago as a refugee and has fought her way on the Belgian National Team at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016. Mohamad Jarkas was living a good life in Syria as philosophy student and football referee, until he was forced to choose between fighting the war or fleeing the country.

“I didn’t want to leave football, which was my hobby. When I had achieved refugee status, I was actively in contact with associations and eventually became a referee on a national level. Sport was one of the most important things here to help me integrate”, Jarkas explained.

Nuur Salah had a similar experience, having to flee Ethiopia to avoid becoming a soldier. The Vertical Club Rising Youth Project gave him the opportunity to get a training and a traineeship.

ASPIRE facilitator Dr Richard Bailey from the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education (ICSSPE) presented ASPIRE Training Module ‘Considering the Personal Challenges of Refugees – Psychosocial Aspects of Inclusive Coaching’, pointing out that sport by itself does not have a positive impact, but it’s the good quality sport, with the help of good coaches, that empowers, educates and integrates. People that have gone through trauma need coaches that recognise their position and may better respond to their individual needs.

Best practice and examples of successful initiatives were presented by Dirk De Cock from the Flanders Integration Agency, Hedeli Sassi and Jeroen Vanderputte from The Royal Belgian Football Association, Benjamin Gerard from Rising You, Betty Autrique from Beerschot Athletics and Rembert De Geest from the Mechelen OKAN after school sports project. Also ASPIRE partner organisation Minor Ndako presented the integration of sport activities in their work with minor refugees.

Finally, Agata Dziarnowska from the European Commission (DG EAC Sport Unit) gave useful insights to the work of the EU in the field of social inclusion of refugees through sport, introducing EU funding possibilities such as Erasmus+ Sport and the Special Calls, and the #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards.

Upon the conclusions of the event, the participants agreed that they had learned something new, created new contacts and had a good time. The ASPIRE trainings resume with the remaining sessions in Greece, Bulgaria, Austria and Spain in the course of 2019.

For more information on the #ASPIREsportEU project, visit its website and Facebook page.

(Photo credits: Sport Flanders)