Campus - 03.11.2016 - 00:00 

Sports Economics Day 2016: integration of refugees through sports

Refugees should be integrated into our society as best they can be. Are sports a suitable tool for this purpose? And what exactly is integration? On the 4th Sports Economics Day of the University of St.Gallen, academics and practitioners presented their perspectives in the form of lectures and a panel discussion. By student reporter Thomas Tarantini.

4 November 2016. "It’s a clash of different cultures." This is how the first speaker, Dr. Johanna Franziska Gollnhofer, project leader at the Institute for Customer Insight, started her lecture . She defined the notion of "integration" in scientific terms, namely as an interface between a strong cultural identity (the migrants’) and a positive perception of the culture in the country of arrival. This created a multicultural society with a harmonious coexistence. However, it required mutual accommodation. The definition proposed by Heike Kübler from the German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB) pointed in a similar direction. Besides equal rights in cultural diversity, she particularly emphasised the crucial significance of the long-term nature of integration.

Sports enable integration

Sports could be helpful with integration, said Franz Fischer from the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace. In his lecture, the UN representative even called sports an "important enabler of sustainable development". Sports had conflict resolution potential, sports enabled the attainment of equal rights between different cultures, sports integrated people with disabilities and sports had a beneficial influence on young people. All these arguments could be deduced from Fischer’s statement. Dr. Gollnhofer added that sports were able to create a so-called "liminality". In concrete terms, this meant that they created a kind of space in which day-to-day classification systems were cancelled. Thus it is immaterial whether some players in a team wear headscarves as long as they play in the same team. For Heike Kübler, such teams and sports associations provided a basis for integration. Associations communicated cultural values, were conducive to networking – and that even at a favourable price.

Limited capacities and challenges

However, the capacities of German sports associations were limited. One crucial factor here was the utilisation of sports halls as emergency shelters for refugees, said Heike Kübler. According to Franz Fischer, there were further challenges such as a frequent resettlement of migrants, administrative problems, a shortage of instructors and coaches, as well as racism. Kübler added that at least the sports hall situation was continuously improving and enabled new sports courses to be offered. It was conspicuous, however, that such courses attracted vastly more men than women. This was confirmed by Claudia Nef, Head of the Integration Competence Centre of the Canton of St.Gallen. The reasons for this could be the migrants’ situation in life with regard to time and family, as well as their fundamental attitude to sports. Franz Fischer concurred and said that the basic needs would have to be satisfied first before the question of sports could be tackled. With regard to the integration of migrant children, Jaromir Mazel, who was once a migrant himself but had immediately found a foothold in Swiss sports, mentioned the Schubs association – a school for exercise and sports – as a possible contact. This also provided parents with an opportunity to integrate themselves through “passive sports”, i.e. by simply being spectators at a sporting event.

Better coordination of governments, municipalities and sports federations

UN representative Franz Fischer pointed out that refugees should soon be directly integrated in the organisation of such offers as well. Besides, the UN was also making an effort to achieve better coordination of governments, municipalities and sports federations in order to simplify the search for suitable partners. Role models for migrants should be supported. The focus, however, was on the establishment of a network between the parties. Heike Kübler, for her part, underlined the great value of voluntary and honorary work. Her organisation depended on this help and was hoping that the readiness for it would remain constant or even increase.

Positive results

To conclude, all the panellists declared themselves pleased with what had been achieved that evening. Valuable insights were gained. The organisers from the Swiss Institute for Empirical Economic Research (SEW-HSG) and University Sports were satisfied. However, some questions remained unanswered. The panel discussion was chaired by Prof. Dr. Michael Lechner from the SEW-HSG. When asked how he rated the event, he answered: "I’m shocked, shocked about how little we really know. We neither know exactly what we’re doing, nor what it costs, nor what will result from it all." Indeed, hardly any statistically tangible information about the detailed funding and budgeting of activities, about the effectiveness of measures and the appeal to the genders was produced. Even so, the meeting between different perspectives was rewarding. The event provided food for thought, or as Heike Kübler put it at the end of her lecture: "Retain your curiosity about the people you meet."

Thomas Tarantini is a fifth-semester management student at the HSG.

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