Reaffirming the importance of local and refugee-led organisations for sport and development in a post-COVID19 world | –

A call for sport and development to begin and end with those targeted by programmes and initiatives.
COVID-19 has impacted the sporting world in multiple ways, including the obstruction of sport-for-development (SFD) programmes and initiatives in many communities. As the field of SFD already faces challenges of donor competition, limited funding, and sustainability issues, COVID-19 will have drastic and long-lasting effects on the survival of SFD, especially as physical distancing will influence social and community interactions for months or years to come. And yet, COVID-19 may actually provide an opportunity to reconsider sport and development, particularly in regard to the important role of local development organisations for marginalised populations prior to, during, and post pandemic.
Wide-ranging effects of COVID-19 have impacted marginalised groups and perpetuated inequalities for individuals including the homeless, those living in low-income neighborhoods, and – specifically in the global South – refugee communities. Refugee communities and displaced peoples have long been a focus of various sport and development initiatives, for example, to promote conflict resolution between different ethnic tribes. Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID), located in Kampala, Uganda, adopts sport for the purposes of bringing together Congolese, Rwandan, and Burundian refugees with Ugandan nationals, as well as seeks to reduce youth drug-use and alcoholism through sport. Sport is also utilised for fostering cultural understanding, diversity, and refugee integration.
As COVID-19 has perpetuated many refugee challenges, not least of which is potential future migration, refugee communities in Uganda – that are close-knit in both social and physical senses – face issues of access to basic provisions including food, hygienic products, and income. However, refugee organisations are key for the fight against coronavirus. YARID has responded to the coronavirus pandemic by offering urban refugee communities’ soap, water, food, and other basic necessities through innovative online funding, including GoFundMe pages that support locally-driven basic needs provision. The importance of YARID – and other refugee-led organisations who are intimately immersed within communities – displays the importance of local organisations not only for COVID-19 relief efforts, but in the future, the continued involvement of local organisations and communities in sport and development.
In particular, this is a chance for SFD to reaffirm and reorient its approaches to development by specifically emphasising and seeking organisations, groups, and communities that have local ties to the communities that SFD often targets, particularly those underrepresented. In other words, this is an opportunity for sport and development to restart from the bottom-up, rather than top-down. While this is not a new suggestion per se, the potential for COVID-19 to impact the sport landscape may, as others have suggested, widen the gap between elite sport and sport for marginalised communities as funding and resources may be further directed to the revitalistion of elite sport rather than sport programmes and initiatives that offer sport for wider (and often marginalised) populations.
This is where the future of sport and development could – and should – continue to change. International organisations, corporations, and governments offer significant and important support to local organisations and refugees. However, for development of refugee communities, and SFD in relation, there has sometimes been limited recognition of the role of local, refugee-led organisations in the quest to respond to refugee struggles.
Consequently, the future of sport and development must reconsider the way in which funding, and its stipulations, is offered to local organisations and communities. Specifically, an emphasis on the inclusion and autonomy local organisations should have in the future – a post COVID-19 future – should be driven by organisations operating intimately with the groups and individuals that SFD purports to hold promise for, especially when considering refugee communities. These organisations and groups should be at the forefront of envisioning how SFD is driven, how funding and donor resources are utilized, and perhaps most importantly, how sport is implemented. This embraces the ability of local organisations and communities to drive the type of sport and how it is implemented in SFD, including the potential downplaying of elitist elements of sport such as competition, separation, and individualism.
This is of upmost importance as COVID-19 has distanced (at the very least in a physical sense) people from one another. Sport and development should thus seek to implement sport in a way that brings people back together, through cultural understanding and diversity, particularly for diverse refugee communities and groups.
Overall, this is a call for sport and development – which has continued to trend toward the importance of local community involvement – to begin and end with those targeted by programs and initiatives, whom have deep understanding of community issues, and seek to work with those who have been both impacted greatly by COVID-19 and are contributing to relief efforts – or, in other words, those often closest to proposed SFD beneficiaries.
Mitchell McSweeney is a PhD candidate at York University in Toronto, Canada, whose research focuses on sport and physical activity, international development, entrepreneurship, and refugee communities. He has worked with various sport for development organisations in Uganda, Eswatini, Canada, and India.
Patrick Simpenzwe Hakiza is the coordinator of sport for development and soccer for peace at YARID in Kampala, Uganda. He is a Congolese refugee journalist residing in Uganda who was born in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and of the generation who has been impacted by the continued instability of the DRC.
Robert Hakiza is a Congolese refugee living in Uganda since 2008 and is the co-founder and executive director of YARID in Kampala, Uganda, with extensive experience as a refugee advocate for urban refugees. He holds a degree in Agriculture from the Catholic University of Bukavu (DRC) and a certificate in forced migration from the International Summer School of forced migration at Oxford University. Robert is also a founding member of the Refugee-Led Organizations Network in Uganda, a founding and steering committee member of the Global Refugee Network representing the sub-Saharan Africa Chapter, a TED Fellow 2017, Aspen Institutes Fellow 2017, and Obama Emerging African leader 2019.
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