Earlier this year, Sport 4 Life UK (S4L) and STAR (Student Action for Refugees) teamed up to create a project designed to provide asylum seekers residing in Birmingham with weekly football sessions. These sessions offer structure to individuals whose immigration status prohibits them from working – often leading to financial constraints and a loss of dignity. Through structured football training delivered by S4L coaches (with support from STAR volunteers), participants benefit not only from increased physical activity, but also from improved mental health, greater social interaction, and regular language practice. The positive relationships between participants and volunteers contribute to a sense of belonging and value within the community.

“With access to these sessions, some structure is added to their day, which along with the obvious benefits of sport, has a really important impact on their mental health. When visiting the hotel at other points in the week for other activities, residents will tell us that they’re looking forward to football and going along to it with their friends – the project has also helped to develop relationships between residents as well as having benefits to them as individuals.” Kate O’Neil (STAR President)

Sport as a Tool for Development and Peace

Sport serves as a powerful tool for development and peace by strengthening relationships, providing structure, and enhancing mental wellbeing. For asylum seekers, who often face challenges resettling in a new country after experiencing trauma, engaging in structured sports activities aids in their integration process, and provides opportunities for personal growth. Through playing as part of a team, participants enhance their confidence, resilience, and communication – vital life skills for their integration into society. Many beneficiaries have reported making their first UK friends through this project, highlighting the profound social impact of sports initiatives. 

“One participant has told us he is grateful for the opportunity to do something as a team, as his experience has been quite lonely prior to these sessions.”

Significance of International Day of Sport for Development and Peace

The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace celebrates the transformative power of sports in promoting peace, social cohesion, and development. For projects like STAR, it underscores the importance of recognising and advocating for the role of sports in improving the lives of vulnerable populations. By acknowledging this day, we affirm the value of sports in creating inclusive communities and supporting individuals in rebuilding their lives.

“Through my years of working with asylum seekers, many have told me the thing they appreciate most about life in the UK, despite the obvious challenges of seeking asylum, is the increased peace and safety they feel here. Sport certainly contributes to this, and having a marked day to celebrate and share the value of sport for vulnerable people is a great concept.” Kate O’Neill (STAR President)

Government Support for Sport-based Initiatives

Governments should promote, support and invest in sport-based initiatives due to their profound societal impact, including physical health, mental wellbeing, developing key life skills and employability outcomes. Every £1 invested in community sport creates £6 in social value (compared to £2 social value created by investment in elite sport), and yet 70% of government funding to sport and recreation has been cut since 2012.*

*’British Business and Sport for Good’ Report