UN Special Envoy stresses need for lasting sports programmes for refugees

Longtime sports advocate Jacques Rogge, on a visit to UNHCR headquarters, says sustained sports programmes can help build a better world for refugee youth.

UN Special Envoy for Sports, Jacques Rogge (left), shakes hands with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on a visit to the Geneva headquarters of the UN refugee agency earlier this week.   © UNHCR/S.Hopper

GENEVA, Switzerland, July 25, (UNHCR) - The UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Youth Refugees and Sport, Jacques Rogge, has told UNHCR staff he believes sustained sports programmes can help build a better world for refugee youth.

On a visit to UNHCR headquarters this week, Rogge told High Commissioner António Guterres and UNHCR colleagues that he saw sports as a key educational and health tool, as well as community mobilizer and social integrator.

"Sports programmes for refugees are not just going into a camp, delivering some soccer balls and moving on," he said. "We need to have sustainable, long-term sports programmes both in camps and urban areas where refugees live."

The High Commissioner outlined to Rogge the magnitude and complexity of the world's displacement crises, particularly the Syria and Africa emergencies.

"Sport is one of the few positive elements that brings people together with enthusiasm," Guterres said. "Yet in emergencies, while we are caught up with the urgency of saving lives, sports is easily set aside."

He added that there needs to be an urgent focus on youth, who are the future of refugee communities.

"Sport is an important protection tool," Guterres added. "Youth are often overlooked, and when neglected they can easily fall prey to child recruitment and other terrible things."

Rogge met top UNHCR protection officials, as well as staff members with recent deep field experience, who briefed him on the brutal realities and needs of displaced children and youth. As a result of the visit, UNHCR plans to mobilize funds to create long-term sports programmes for refugees and people displaced within their own countries, both in camps and cities.

Rogge, the former president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and now honorary IOC president, was appointed to his Special Envoy role on 28 April this year.

By Jennifer Pagonis in Geneva