Go For Good: How Sports Fuel Peace, Democracy, And Equality

Let’s explore the powerful benefits of sports on the cusp of the 2024 Olympics and see how refugee change makers are harnessing the power of sports to strengthen their communities.


Most of us—athlete or not—could list a few obvious benefits of sports: promotes health, fosters teamwork, offers structure, and so on.

But there’s also a host of “hidden” benefits of sports that may be less familiar.

Do you know that sports are also an age-old catalyst for peace, diplomacy, unity, and understanding? Or that sports can foster a deep sense of belonging that all humans need—especially if you’ve missed out on it as a refugee or a member of a marginalized group. These and other scientifically proven benefits of sports might just surprise you.

On the cusp of the 2024 Olympics, and in honor of World Refugee Day, let’s take a look at the inspiring benefits of sports and see how local change leaders are harnessing the power of sports to strengthen their communities.

Sports and peace

Since ancient times, sports have been used to gather and create space for peace—the Olympics being one of the greatest examples of this. Historically, the ancient Greek Olympic games were not just about competition and state pride—they were also space for truce, or “Ekecheiria.”

Flashforward to 2024: The Olympics come at a time of great global strife. The UN has announced “a new era of conflict,” where violent conflict seems to touch every corner of the globe.

While larger initiatives like the Olympics can hypothetically help foster peace on an international scale, sports are also paramount for the development of peace in local and familial contexts. Take Fatuma’s story, from the county of Marsabit, Kenya, as an example.

Fatuma’s homeland was plagued by severe drought, food and water scarcity, and inter-tribal disagreements that led to years of tensions. Violence erupted in December 2013 between two competing militias. At least 23 people died, 100 homes were destroyed, and 8,521 households were displaced.

Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan, the child of parents from warring tribes, knew the people of Marsabi deserved more. Driven by her inner knowing that peace was possible, she founded the Horn of Africa Development Initiative – HODI to offer conflict resolution and peacemaking lessons for children and families affected by tribal conflict through climate action, disaster response, and you guessed it—sports!

Their hugely successful program, Shoot to Score, offers 10,000 children a safe place to play football and learn life skills. “Peace points” are awarded for children engaging in strong conflict resolution behaviors and training is also offered for affected families.

Sports and belonging

As a new era of global conflict unfolds, we are witnessing mass waves of displacement.

Studies estimate that there are currently around 36.4 million refugees worldwide—which is the highest number of people forcibly displaced on record.

For refugees trying to find a source of belonging, sports can offer a safe haven. When you join a team, you regularly show up at the same place with the same people to work toward a shared goal. This connects refugees—who often report feeling isolated and exhausted—to the place where they have landed and a network of people experiencing similar challenges.

Many nonprofits working with refugees know the power of sports to foster belonging firsthand. Reclaim Childhood, for example, is a GlobalGiving partner that creates safe and inclusive spaces for 200 local and refugee girls in Jordan through soccer, basketball, and frisbee programming in Amman and Zarqa, Jordan with trauma-informed coaches who offer support during this transition.

The fun doesn’t end on the field—Reclaim Childhood also organizes potlucks, informal gathering spaces, and even learning cohorts with families.

“Reclaim Childhood gets girls out of the house and onto the field, providing a safe space to play, learn, and build community.” —Rima Yacoub, Reclaim Childhood.

Reclaim Childhood staff members focus on helping girls form friendships across different national, economic, and religious backgrounds.

Sports and Personal Betterment

Sports are linked to improvements in physical health and mental health because exercise reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, while increasing serotonin, the chemical that contributes to a positive mood.
Participation in youth team sports are linked with lower rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, and substance abuse. Other studies point to sports abilities to prevent crime and build community resilience, with others boost of sports ability to help children develop respect for themselves and others and higher self-confidence.

Whether it’s the sense of belonging, joy, structure, or the physical and mental benefits that draw you to support sport—there is certainly something to be said about its potential.

This summer, on the Olympic stage, you can cheer for the newly formed Refugee Olympic Team. The International Olympic Committee describes the team as “a symbol of hope.” Thomas Bach, IOC President, said the team “is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”

You can also explore hundreds of vetted, charitable projects on GlobalGiving today that support refugees or promote sports.


Featured Photo: A funded project by Enabling Leadership Inc.

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