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Promoting social inclusion in and through youth sports’ activities

Sports as an Equal Playground (SPED) is a joint project initiative of four organizations from Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, and Italy to encourage social inclusion and equal opportunities in and through youth sport activities. Now is the European Week of Sports and a perfect time to share some tips we have gathered during the project.

The idea of this blog post is to give other organizations inspiration on how to create projects that use sports as an integration tool in the communities.  The following steps are meant to serve as a guideline to start applying more inclusive and equal practices in your environment.

Develop the action or project together with young people

Offer your support, but let the youth take responsibility. Participation gives the young people a possibility to influence decision making regarding the action/project, as well as experience belonging and a sense of community. By incorporating young people into the process, you can also assure that it fits the needs and desires of your target group.

Pay attention to communication dynamics

This is strongly related to the previous point and the aim of facing young people (from diverse backgrounds) as social actors and equals. Concentrate on empowering instead of making the participants feel like they are receiving aid. Pay attention to reciprocity. Find a common language or a way of speaking that everyone feels comfortable to use.

Promote a safer space

Safer space refers to a place where no one is discriminated against and everyone can be themselves. The aim is to ensure that people from any background can feel safe, including marginalized people. You can create your own safer space principles together with your group. Remember to also agree on how to act in case the principles are violated.

Combine raising awareness and sports

Knowledge reduces uncertainties and misunderstandings, as well as can bring people from diverse backgrounds closer to each other. However, keep in mind that educating others is not a duty for anyone; treat people as individuals per se, not representatives of social groups. Try to recognize the prejudices/bias you might have.

Cooperate with other actors

It is easier – as well as more efficient and impactful – to act together. Search for ways to cooperate with other actors and/or associations that are targeting similar issues and audiences. Sometimes it’s also good to be creative and think outside of the box. Find common ground and develop ways to respond to the needs concerned.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Keep an open mind. Have a mindset of trial and error, conduct experiments and modify practices based on your experiences. Consider failures as learning opportunities.

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb whose first attempts at a lightbulb did not work, is quoted to have said “I have not failed. I have just found 1000 ways that won’t work.”. Whether Edison has really said this is not certain, but it can remind us of the importance of experimentation. We hope you find many ways that won’t work and eventually many that will!

These tips are from the manual that has been produced as a part of the Sports as an Equal Playground project. The manual includes a collection of good practices and tools to foster social inclusion and equality in and through youth sport activities. The manual will be published in October 2022.

SPED is a 24-month long Erasmus+ Sport Small Collaborative Partnership project carried out in 2021–2022 with the support of the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union. The European Commission is not responsible for the content of this publication. More information about the Erasmus+ programme: www.oph.fi/erasmusplus