by Daniela Gomes, Development and Education & Training Projects Officer
At a time when conflict and persecution are increasingly present in the lives of millions of people, inclusion through sport can be a tool to boost self-confidence, sense of belonging and social mobility.
FC Barcelona Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), acknowledge the humanitarian crisis, and joined efforts to deliver the “sign and pass” campaign, a three-year partnership aimed at transforming the lives of young refugees and increasing awareness on refugee’s issues.
Footballers Lionel Messi and Neymar junior are backing this collaboration and signed a ball to launch the #SignAndPass campaign, to give people all over the world the chance to show their support to refugees by digital signing an online campaign and passing on the message via social media.
The High-level forum “The Transformative Power of Sport: Champions #with Refugees” was held in Barcelona, on Tuesday 13th June, and kicked off this collaboration, providing participants to discover and discuss how they can mobilize, create active partnerships and sport initiatives to improve the lifes of millions of displaced girls, boys, women and men.
Leandro Olvech, Director – ITTF Director-Development took the opportunity to meet with Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with whom he has shared the International Table Tennis Federation’s current refugees initiatives, under the motto “Breaking Down Barriers with Table Tennis Balls”.
Filippo Grandi emphasised the increased use of sport, becoming mainstream due to its unique capacity to enable inspiration, inclusion, involvement and fun for children. Play is such a critical part of a child’s life and displaced children can largely benefit from Sport values! The values we all need in life and which are the same whether in the best school in one´s country or elsewhere.
Namely the Al Zaatari Dream Building project is being drawn in a joint effort with Peace and Sport and the UNHCR to promote positive individual and social change inside the Syrian Refugee community in the Al Zaatari Camp, in Jordan, and increase cooperation and strengthen social cohesion through table tennis, between Syrian refugees and Jordan people.
The International Table Tennis Federation, the only International Sport Federation who attended the forum, has a long history of involvement in sport for development projects, starting with “Ping Pong Diplomacy” over 40 years ago, and is focused on creating positive social change in the refugees’ lives while leaving a lasting legacy for table tennis to flourish.
BBC David Eades broke down the High level Forum in Perceptions, Actions and Consequences.
The first panel addressed Perceptions. Lucy Lamble (Guardian), Charlotte Alfred (Refugees Deeply), Antonio Zapulla (Thomson Reuters Foundation) and Lilian Thuram (Thuram Foundation against Racism) discussed the ways in which sport can promote a positive narrative on refugees and show the world that refugees are people with the same humanity, dreams, aspirations and extraordinary skills.
Paulo Lokoro sets the example. A human being with extraordinary running skills who was forced to leave former Sudan, is now recognised as an Olympian, not only as a refugee! Sport has that power!
The Forum succeeded in creating awareness and providing expertise. The second panel included Yasir Khan (Al Jazeera), Sikander Khan (Unicef), Maria Bobenrieth (Women Win) and Brendan Tuohey (Peace Players) to discuss the theme “becoming a game changer”.
Action is required. How can one expand in current actions to face the huge challenges ahead? ITTF will keep the commitment and increase collaboration with partners to go far and give displaced people table tennis balls filled with hope!