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Olympic Refuge Foundation: Sport can offer hope to displaced communities during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Syrian sisters Zeinab and Rayan practice Taekwondo during lockdown at their home in Azraq refugee camp, Jordan. © UNHCR/Mohammad Hawari

Joint IOC/UNHCR press release

The Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF) today highlighted how sport can help build resilience and boost the mental health of forcibly displaced young people, especially during the COVID‐19 pandemic.

The ORF Chair and IOC President, Thomas Bach, and the Vice-Chair, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, warned of the growing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of refugees and others uprooted by war, violence and persecution around the world, compounding already very challenging circumstances.

Refugees are among the most vulnerable to the consequences of the pandemic – often residing in overcrowded camps, settlements and urban areas in cramped conditions with inadequate access to fresh water and hygiene supplies. Mental health conditions amongst people affected by conflict are already two or three times higher than in the general population, with one in five people experiencing mental health challenges.

Meeting remotely today, the ORF Board agreed on a number of initiatives to boost the protection of forcibly displaced young people and help improve their mental health through sport.

As an example, the ORF is launching a pilot project in Uganda, using sport to improve the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of more than 10,000 refugee and host community young people (aged 15 to 24). Led by a consortium of five agencies (the ORF, AVSI, UOC, Youth Sport Uganda and UNHCR Uganda), the programme will deliver a nationwide Sport for Protection programme.

Additionally, the Board has:

  • committed the Foundation’s “Think Tank” to focusing on improving mental health and psychosocial wellbeing (MHPSS) through sport; and
  • proposed a Call for Solutions from ORF partners to encourage sports initiatives that work towards improving mental health for refugee young people during the current pandemic.

ORF Chair and IOC President Thomas Bach said, “Over the last few months in the current crisis, we have all seen how important sport and physical activity are for physical and mental health. Sport can save lives. Safe sport provides mental and physical wellbeing for all and, in particular, for people that have experienced and continue to experience trauma, loss and prolonged uncertainty.”

ORF Vice-Chair and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi added, “Around the world we are seeing troubling evidence of the devastating impact of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of young refugees. The Olympic Refuge Foundation has rightly identified the important contribution that sport can make to psychosocial wellbeing and is accelerating its work to address this growing challenge.”

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • For IOC: Emmanuelle MOREAU, IOC Press Office: pressoffice@olympic.org – PH: +41 21 621 6000
  • For UNHCR: Nick Sore, sore@unhcr.org, +41794470275