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How sport supports refugees

Sport brings people closer together: a German initiative shows how refugees and people with a migration background can settle in more quickly. 

Klaus LüberKlaus Lüber, 14.02.2024
Sport promotes social cohesion
Sport promotes social cohesion © picture alliance / epd-bild

Basil was 14 years old when he came to Oldenburg in northern Germany from Iraq with his parents in 2017. “I was at home for three months, not doing anything – I couldn’t go to school,” he remembers. In the end it was getting involved in sport that helped him. In his home country Basil had been a very keen volleyball and football player. He found a volleyball team in Oldenburg through the “Refugees Welcome in Sports” (ReWIS) initiative, which offers various sports specifically for refugees.  

Basil is a volunteer with ReWIS
Basil is a volunteer with ReWIS © DOSB

Sport supports the integration of refugees 

ReWIS was founded in 2016 by students as a sports sociology project they were doing on the master’s degree programme in Sport and Lifestyle at the University of Oldenburg. The aim is to improve integration conditions for refugees in sport. “For this to happen, sports programmes have be geared more towards their needs. What is more, refugees have to be given opportunities to get actively involved on an equal footing,” explains ReWIS co-founder Micòl Feuchter. She says that this is still neglected in many programmes, not least due to a too narrowly defined concept of what integration means. “It’s as though the onus were being placed on them to integrate in society through sport, while in fact the aim should be to enable them to genuinely participate.” 

Basil is now 22 and has been a sports coach for several years, running his training sessions in addition to working as a chef at his parents’ restaurant several times a week. He feels the experience has been of enormous value. “It’s a great feeling for me to be able to actively take on responsibility.” ReWIS is funded by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) under the federal programme Integration through Sport, which is run by the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB)

Micòl Feuchter, co-founder of ReWIS
Micòl Feuchter, co-founder of ReWIS © DOSB

But it can be about more than just sport, as the ReWIS sports programme for women shows: here the coaches sometimes help the women fill out forms, for example, or simply socialise with friends while the children are looked after. She found this rather disconcerting at first, says Feuchter. “But then we realised that this is a form of self-determined participation, too.” Participation also means deciding not to take part in a programme – or making use of the opportunities available according to your own interests.