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Delivering Effective Sport for Health Programs Among Refugee Populations

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Delivering Effective Sport for Health Programs Among Refugee Populations

Arden Anderson, M.S.

Nearly 65.6 million people worldwide have been involuntarily forced to leave their homes (UNHCR, 2017). Among this population are approximately 22.5 million refugees seeking asylum for a variety of reasons (UNHCR, 2017). Upon arrival in a new country, these refugees may face several problems and personal needs, such as boredom and lack of purpose. Moreover, at the forefront are associated health related needs. 

Although not a complete remedy for the problem at hand, one way to address these needs is through participation in sport and physical activity, as it has been shown to make positive contributions to physical and mental health along with associated social benefits among refugees (Guerin, Diriye, Corrigan, & Guerin, 2003; Olliff, 2008; Spaaij, 2012). By providing refugees with some form of activity or structure, sport participation may fill a void and assist refugees with integrating into a new culture and community. Yet, it is imperative to focus on the design and delivery of sport programs in order to achieve these desired outcomes (Northcote & Casimiro, 2010). Thus, the purpose of the present study was to improve our understanding of how sport managers can effectively design and deliver sport to refugee populations in order to maximize beneficial health outcomes. 

The authors theoretically grounded the study in a social-ecological model, recognizing that the design, delivery, and outcomes of sport are set within constraints at multiple levels. Data were collected using a Delphi approach with a group of experts from Germany and the Netherlands. Over the last century, Germany has received a large number of immigrants sheltering approximately 1.5 million refugees mostly of European descent (German Parliament, 2017), while the Netherlands has been more apt to receive non-European migrants. In 2016, nearly 21,000 refugees applied for asylum in the Netherlands (Asylum Information Database, 2017). Thus, these two countries represented ideal research settings due to their markedly different, yet poignant, historical experiences with international migration. 

The findings indicated that the experts attributed a number of health benefits to sport programs including physical activity, diversion, stress reduction, coping, and building friendships. Benefits were more likely to occur when the sport delivery approach moves from merely increasing participation to affecting the sport for health settings. The experts also identified a number of intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, and societal level factors impacting the effective design, delivery, and outcomes of sport for health programs which are rich in implications for sport managers and policy makers. 

Based upon the present global issue of forced migration and the associated health needs of refugees, it is timely and important to continue to find creative and effective means for improving the health of refugees. The findings of this study indicate the many physical, mental, and social health concerns presented by refugees can be addressed through sport for health programs. Yet, sport managers must move beyond increasing participation and instead, move toward a settings approach by creating programs and partnerships with the necessary staff and resources to achieve sport for health outcomes. 


For Further Reading:

1. Adler, M., & Ziglio, E. (1996). Gazing into the oracle: The Delphi method and its application to social policy and public health. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 

2. Agergaard, S. (2011). Development and appropriation of an integration policy for sport: how Danish sports clubs have become arenas for ethnic integration. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 3(3), 341-353.

3. Northcote, J., & Casimiro, S. (2008). A critical approach to evidence-based resettlement policy: Lessons learned from an Australian Muslim refugee sports program. Tamara Journal, 8, 173-185.



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