Refugees in Europe: sports as a lever for social inclusion by PLAY International

There are now nearly 89.3 million displaced people in the world. Of these, 27.1 million are refugees, and more than half of them are under the age of 18 

Since 2015, the European Union has been experiencing a large influx of people in situations of forced migration that it is struggling to receive and welcome. Often facing administrative complexities, search for housing and employment, loss of reference points, and trauma: people seeking international protection need urgent and efficient support to successfully achieve their social inclusion.

PLAY, an association of Groupe SOS, is convinced that sport, an under-exploited source of solutions, has a place in meeting this challenge. It believes that only through collective action can appropriate solutions be created. Social inclusion projects through sports must be the result of a common action gathering actors from various fields (social, sport, institutional, etc.) working together to create and implement quality educational content.

PLAY International (PLAY) is a pioneering French NGO in the field of development and education through sport. It was founded in 1999 on the conviction that sport is a source of solutions to our social challenges. In France, PLAY International works in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Internationally, the NGO is established in Kosovo, the Comoros, Burundi, and Senegal.

For 5 years now, PLAY International has been working for the social inclusion of refugees through sports games 

2017-2018: the creation of the PLAY Lab in France, an incubator for social innovations using sport as a tool towards inclusion. Its first program supported the development of 7 innovative projects in 7 European countries carried out by European organizations specialized either in sports practices as a lever for development or in the social inclusion of refugees. By strengthening the skills of these project leaders, the aim is to consolidate their actions and impacts in the medium term and to identify approaches with potential for replicability and solutions that can benefit all sectors of sport and the social economy.  

More information on this first successful initiative and its capitalization report here: https://www.play-international.org/en/impact/projects/incubator-sport-refugees

2020-2022: Building on its learnings, PLAY launched an ambitious 3-year program in 2020 supported by the European Commission and the Suez Foundation.  

The two priority action levers identified by PLAY in the framework of this European program are : 

  1. The creation of meeting spaces and exchange times between actors to promote a collective dynamic; 
  2. Training and equipping the actors fighting against exclusion and sports associations to implement social and sports sessions adapted to each public. 

Thus, PLAY wishes to federate a network of actors in Ile-de-France (region of Paris, France) and at the European level to strengthen the means of action and the impact of social inclusion projects for refugees through sport. 

During the diagnosis, 4 target audiences were identified as priorities and were given special attention in the development of the PLAY program. Although young isolated men benefited from a dedicated project, the 3 other publics (children from 8 to 12 years old, unaccompanied minors, and families – with particular attention to the mother-child relationship) participated in adapted socio-sports sessions favoring the acquisition of targeted psychosocial skills. 

The first part of this program was deployed in Ile-de-France as a pilot action to co-create, test, and train animators and social workers working with refugees and asylum seekers using socio-sport content. The second part of the program is conducted on a European scale and seeks to disseminate the contents and good practices by capitalizing on and adapting to the different European contexts. 

Thus, since the beginning of 2022, PLAY’s teams have been traveling around Europe to train trainers and facilitators working in associations and public services and have also welcomed more than twenty European actors in Paris during training of trainers in July 2022. In parallel, PLAY is translating its content into 10 European languages such as English, Spanish, Polish, Slovak…

Beneficiary testimonial: « Anyone can equally play. PLAY’s games are complex enough, which is good because it is challenging and interesting for the players. At the same time, it is simple enough so that everyone can play and enjoy it without me regularly stopping the game and correcting some rules. Games are finally flexible; you can add and take out some rules, adapt them freely. » Frigyes, trainer at Oltalom Sport Association, PLAY’s partner association in Hungary

Some results of the 3-year program so far: + 12 workshops, meetings, and exchanges and + 40 actors trained in Ile-de-France; 26 European actors working in sport and international development sectors trained, 1 collective appeal to make sport a motor of social inclusion (in French).  

Read more about it here: Social inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers through sport | PLAY International (play-international.org)  

2022: Launch of the project Terrains d’Avenir in France, co-financed by the Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF) and the French Ministry of Sports, aimed at enabling more than 6,000 participants from refugee and displaced populations in the Île-de-France region to develop a sense of belonging and define a life project through sport. The project is based on a consortium of 6 entities: Association Emmaüs Solidarité, Fùtbol Màs, Kabubu, Ovale Citoyen, Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation and PLAY International, and on PLAY’s proven approaches and good practices in using sports as a lever for social inclusion.  

More information: https://www.play-international.org/actualites/le-projet-terrains-davenir-est-lance-773 

2022 and the turning point of the war in Ukraine

On February 24, 2022, the conflict between Ukraine and Russia began, causing a large population flow. Today, almost 8 million Ukrainian have found refuge in Europe. In the 6 months following the outbreak of the war, more than 1.4 million people emigrated to Poland and 100,000 exiles went to France. It became necessary to take into account the well-being and integration of these exiles. PLAY then decided to accelerate its approach to disseminate its expertise on the social inclusion of refugees through sports in France but also in the countries bordering Ukraine, with European sister organizations. 

In France

Co-creation of a guide for sports coaches for better social inclusion of refugees through sport, with a special focus on Ukrainian refugees. This guide was co-created with the French tennis and taekwondo federations and aims to show the importance of physical activity for all refugees. Their asylum process, between administrative procedures and access to their rights, does not allow them to access a regular activity, and social life. Sport then becomes a structuring activity, a space to escape from a difficult daily life. The practice of sports has its own benefits: it favors psychological and physical well-being, the creation of social links, the maintenance of lifestyle habits, the learning of French and makes it possible to restore self-confidence.  

More information: https://www.play-international.org/actualites/agir-pour-linclusion-sociale-et-sportive-des-exiles-ukrainiens-825


In Europe

In the fall of 2022, the PLAY Kosovo team has been rolling out the pedagogical content and learning methods to the People in Need partner in Slovakia to ensure better care for Ukrainian exiles by promoting inclusion and well-being through physical activity and sports games, to contribute to the development of life skills, to work on anger and conflict management, to develop empathy and the ability to listen to the needs of others and to work on cooperation and mutual support. PLAY now has ambitions to roll out a similar program with partner organizations in Poland and Hungary. The NGO also reflects on how to better address the mental health of refugees and the role that sports or sports games can play.



AGreenLab, an entrepreneurship program for young people on renewable energies

  Launched by People Power Inclusion (PPI) from GROUPE SOS, the AGreenlab program intends to encourage youth to become entrepreneurs in Africa, through incubation and accelerating programs. AGreenlab seeks to build partnerships and develop investments between European and African countries, by establishing strong cooperation with experts in the fields of entrepreneurship, agribusiness and renewable energies. […]


Madagascar : Planète Urgence’s project for the preservation of Tapia forests and support local communities

GROUPE SOS in Madagascar   In January 2023, GROUPE SOS’ international team set off for Madagascar to meet with the teams of Planète Urgence, PPI and Santé Sud. Madagascar is the second country of intervention for GROUPE SOS, with over a hundred colleagues making the world a better place through impact-driven projects. Therefore, the 2023 […]


COP 27: we must act now!

The situation is urgent. We see it every day at Groupe SOS through our actions to accelerate the ecological transition and with the most vulnerable people. In a worrying inflationary context, we need to respond to needs we concretely see every day, in France, and in the 40 countries in which we operate. The scientific, […]




Your email address is only used to send you newsletters about our business. You can use the unsubscribe link integrated in the newsletter at any time. To find out more about your rights, please consult the personal data protection charter.