Sports practice in immigrants

Cristian González

10 November, 2009

Catalonia is growing the presence of immigrants in sports practice, both in clubs and federated leagues as in entities and competitions that are outside the range of official bodies. Physical activity allows physical and psychic well-being, social relationships and identity development.

As a result of the phenomenon of immigration, in Catalonia, one million foreigners live, a figure that accounts for the 13% of the population and that makes this autonomous community that hosts the largest number of immigrants in Spain. The main immigrant community is Moroccan origin (20%), followed by Ecuadorian (8%), Romanian (7%) and Bolivian (5%). These newcomers are not evenly distributed throughout the Catalan territory, since most of them live in the province of Barcelona.

Sociologist Chris Kennett affirms Multicultural Sport (2008) that "while economic integration is the top priority of newly arrived groups, there is a clear need for social and cultural integration of these groups of immigrants who change quickly and constant ». As a result of this concern on the part of the institutions, the 2001 approved the Universal Declaration of UNESCO on cultural diversity that was ratified by the European Community 18 of December of 2006. According to article sixth of that statement, the maintenance of cultural diversity requires access to means of cultural expression and dissemination. «Sport is a cultural activity for many societies and it is a significant means of expression that can contribute to the processes of adaptation and intercultural exchange», explains Chris Kennett.

The White Paper on Sport of the European Commission identifies the fundamental role of sport in society and its importance in promoting active citizenship through values ​​such as team spirit, solidarity, tolerance and clean play. The White Paper also highlights the potential of sport to include and integrate immigrants to the extent that it provides a shared feeling of belonging.

In Catalonia, the Generalitat acknowledged the importance of sport as part of this process; institutions such as the Secretary of Immigration, the General Secretariat of Sport, at the national level, and the Diputació de Barcelona and the Barcelona Sports Institute, in the Barcelona area, have taken the first steps in policies applied to this terrain

Municipalities such as Barcelona have organized and promoted various initiatives to promote social cohesion and inclusion. «From the Barcelona Sports Institute we work so that the sports offer of the city is suitable for everyone and taking into account all audiences in order to bet on the integration of all the groups in sports networks», explains Sergi Pujalte, manager of the BCN Sports Institute.

Identity and sport
Sport is a fundamental element of the identity of immigrants, who they are as individuals and how they define themselves in relation to others. The opportunity to practice sport makes sense of their lives and many of them allow them to escape from a daily reality governed by long working days, unstable jobs, low salaries and a life situation that is not very good. Being far away not only from their countries, but also from their families, friends and homes, makes the opportunity to spend time with other people in their own situation, generating a sense of belonging.

"When I had only been in Barcelona for a month, I decided that playing football would be a good way to meet people and relate to me," explains Edmundo Morales, currently the president of the Cultural Sports Bolivia and one of the first promoters of the football leagues immigrants «After playing matches and organizing tournaments, the need for the Bolivian community to find ourselves regularly and keep in touch, because it is a way of sprouting and connecting with people in your country that is in a situation similar to the yours ", acknowledges Morales.

Chris Kennett points out that «sport opens doors for participants to develop social networks», adding that «the physical and psychological benefits of sporting practice are evident, but the social benefits are certainly important.» Sport is an opportunity to meet with others and spend time with friends and family.

Competitions and sports
The activities that are organized, such as the Mini World Cup or the All Colors tournament, are usually competitions among immigrant communities based on national representations that mimic the structure of world championships.

Newcomer immigrants usually have in their compatriots the main points of reference when it comes to sporting or knowing people and knitting social networks. This happens almost always outside the system of sports federations due to the need to present legal papers and the cost in time and money, as well as the added difficulty of entering a local team in the face of the ease of entering a team organized by immigrant compatriots.

The Mini Copa del Mundo, organized by the Juan Pablo II Foundation, is linked to a league tournament that includes more than one thousand players from Latin America, plus the female league, which has about one hundred players. The International Soccer League of Barcelona has twenty-four teams and almost three hundred players, almost all foreigners. Approximately ten teams participate every year in a cricket tournament organized by the Pakistani community and in which more than one hundred people play. It is just some examples that show the magnitude of well-organized and non-federated sports practices that are developed in immigrant communities.

One of the conclusions reached by Chris Kennett in his study is that in order to move forward the integration process, the barriers detected must be overcome. "Some of these barriers are institutional in nature and involve working with federations, clubs and associations to accommodate more people from different cultures. "Also, facilities and activities should be adapted to meet ever more diverse needs in certain communities.

The institutions
The General Secretary of Sport (SGE) promotes periodic meetings and makes an annual contribution for eligible programs, which 2008 year has been for the part of immigration of one hundred thousand euros. Anna Pruna, the head of the SGE, points out that "integration does not involve the creation of monolithic teams with the presence of members of a single origin", and emphasizes that "the strategic lines of the SGE include specific aspects related to the conception of sport as a way of life and the recognition of the social role of sport, which, among other aspects, have an effect on combating inequalities through sport or integrating young people, evidently many of them 'them immigrants, in the sport activity through what the Catalan School of Sport in the School determines ".

The Secretary of Immigration, apart from the call for subsidies to entities, also has agreements and collaboration programs. It is necessary to stand out what it has with the Catalan Football Foundation from 2007 to favor the cohesion of young immigrants through sport. Within the framework of this agreement more than one thousand four hundred children from eight to fourteen years of forty different countries have participated in more than two hundred clubs Football federations of different Catalan populations.

Challenges for the future
As already mentioned, participation in sports increases the share capital and allows the inclusion of groups in collective cultural practices. However, although in principle there is cultural diversity in the sporting context, as there are few examples of integration and intercultural exchange between communities within the communities of immigrants.

Chris Kennett warns that "there is a risk that sport will be used to deepen the differences between ethnic identities, which can lead to the development of cultures in a separate way and a ghetto effect in which it is hardly a" interacts and in which communities are isolated ». Other voices such as that of Sergio Andreo, journalist for the Diario Latino sports, deny that the competitions created by immigrants are not ghettos at all because they are "open to everyone, although it must be recognized that most of the participants are immigrants, but this is because the Catalans enter the competitions of the Catalan Federation ».

Finally, without the shared values ​​of team spirit, solidarity, tolerance and net play there is no guarantee that the results of sports exchanges are positive. The key to avoid conflicts, violence, racism and xenophobia in the sports field resides in values-based education. "If the sport is not applied properly, all its potential is lost and this only depends on the people who drive it," warns Susanna Soler, professor at the National Institute of Physical Education of Catalonia.

PIONEER INITIATIVES IN SPORTS CENTERS
The phenomenon of immigration has also reached the sports centers. "For a couple of years at the Polideportivo Municipal Frontó Colom we are working with a group of Muslim women who do sporting activity," explains Paco Ruano, Director of Instalaciones Activa't - Club Lleuresport. Under the coordination of the Association of Pakistani Women of Catalonia and the Department of Social Awakening of the Can Ricart Sports Center, a class of initiation of women was promoted to physical activity with a monitor, an exclusive wardrobe, Sport with veil and schedules that allowed them not to coincide with men. "Three months after starting the course, they began to adapt their clothes to physical activity and used collective clothing, among other advances," explains Lydia Guerrero, the social promoter of the project.

Another pioneering center with initiatives of this type is the Maritime Sports Center. As a result of the collaboration between the Claror Foundation and Community Development, in the last years and through the Ondina project, young immigrants who do not know how to swim have participated in introductory swimming courses in Ciutat Vella. Among the students there were also Muslim girls.

the author

Cristian González

Graduate in Journalism (UPF), Graduate in Contemporary History (UB), Master in Business Communication Specialization in Digital Technologies (UPF).

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