The showcase public conference brought together seventy-five delegates including policymakers, NGOs, grassroots organisations and a variety of interested parties. The intention of this event was to argue that sport in general and football in particular could provide a powerful way of supporting refugees in local communities. It was ably supported by volunteers from the University of Brighton’s Football 4 Peace initiative which was established to build bridges in divided communities.
The event was opened by Eric Murangwa, founder of Football for Hope, Peace and Unity. Eric was a refugee from the genocide in Rwanda and detailed how football literally saved his life. As a professional player who played for the Rwandan national team, Eric’s life was spared when gunmen realised who he was. Later, he was protected by members of his football club and a board member helped him to escape. Eric’s powerful speech set the theme for the event and reiterated the unifying aspects of football.
The morning finished with a panel of speakers discussing how to engage refugees in daily life through football. John Dorber from the Council of Europe reiterated the importance of sport for the Council of Europe’s strategy in promoting community respectful co-existence, and reinforced that integration is a two-way process. This talk was followed by Huber Rovers, the CEO of the European Football Development Network which shares best practise for football in the community schemes. He argued that whilst football brings people together, it can also create other problems, such as racism. Fans, clubs, and governing bodies need to be aware that the refugee crisis may lead to an increase in discrimination. Finally, the sport journalist and Sudanese refugee, Azim El-Hassan, discussed the role of the media and proposed some strategies on promoting the positive aspects of football and refugees.
After lunch, representatives of the governing bodies highlighted what they have done to support refugees. Patrick Gasser, the Senior Football Social Responsibility Manager at UEFA highlighted the importance of partnerships in co-ordinating a clear approach. UEFA also provides funding to promote good practice social responsibility schemes. The FA’s Equality and Diversity manager, Kevin Coleman, reiterated the FA’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. Meanwhile, the Premier League’s Jez Weeks detailed his work in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan as part of the Premier League’s coaching workshop. The session was finished by Martin Perry, Executive Director of Brighton and Hove Albion who detailed the work of Albion in the Community who had supported refugees in gaining qualifications and skills.
The day finished with a look at the role of NGOs in supporting refugees. Chaired by Jane Bateman, the FA’s Head of International Development, the speakers reinforced the unifying role football can play. Naomi Westland of Amnesty International provided an historical link by showing that the first Spanish professional footballers in England arrived as child refugees from the Spanish Civil War. Katharina Oltmanns from Terre Des Hommes, reiterated the importance of child protections and how sport can help overcome some of the effects of stress, trauma and social exclusion. Finally, Daniela Conti of Italy’s Sport for All (UISP), showcased the work of Liberi Nantes, a team of refugees established in Rome.
Local politicians showed their support for the event. Caroline Lucas MP sent a video message of support for the event and promised to use the policy briefings that would result from the project. Lord Bassam of Brighton also provide significant support with some powerful words, whilst Councillor Anne Jones CBE from West Sussex Council also reiterated the implications locally, as well as nationally.
The two events reinforced that addressing the refugee crisis requires a holistic approach, with different groups playing a part. Governments, councils and public bodies, including health services, education and housing, need to work together. Football can play a part in these and requires work from fans, clubs, governing bodies and various interested parties, like voluntary organisations and NGOs. To do this, there needs to be strong cooperative networks that share best practice and support each other. Many organisations identified partnerships as an important way of co-ordinating the best skills. It is hoped that this event will plays its part in linking different people together and creating new networks.