Ali Zada highlights the importance of access to sport for displaced people in Paris and beyond

"VAN" (Sports Desk - 21.06.2024) :: To mark World Refugee Day, when she was attending a handball session of the Terrains d’Avenir programme, Masomah Ali Zada, Chef de Mission of the Refugee Olympic Team Paris 2024 , highlighted the important role of sport in supporting the integration of refugees and displaced people in their new communities.

Ahead of the Olympic Games Paris 2024, the Olympic Refuge Foundation is working through its Terrains d’Avenir programme to remove barriers to accessing sport and sporting spaces in the French capital. This year, World Refugee Day focuses on solidarity and solutions for displaced people, and as a programme, Terrains d’Avenir aims to welcome displaced people into the local sporting community, while providing a solution to support them in building their new lives.

Speaking from a sports centre in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Olympic Village, she said: “Playing handball with these women once again reminded me of the impact sport can have when you arrive in a new country as a refugee. It allows you to integrate into a new community; it gives you hope. Most importantly, it’s a tool for you to navigate some of the challenges of being a refugee - it’s a space where you can forget and play.”

She said: “I met a woman from Sri Lanka called Cindy, which really touched me. She is 66 years old and comes to play handball with these women every week. It has been an incredible way for her to integrate, talk French, socialise and do sports. I could see how much it meant to her in her eyes; she would stay even after the session and watch others. After 66 years, it was her connection with this new society she came into. For me that's what sport can do for the refugee community.”

As Chef de Mission, Masomah is the face of the Refugee Olympic Team – representing not only the 36 athletes who will take to the field of play at the Olympic Games in Paris, but also more than 120 million displaced people around the world.

“For me, the Refugee Olympic Team is about giving refugees access to elite level sport. But it’s also important for me to be here at this handball session, because we need to do more to give refugees access to sport at all levels. By welcoming them into our sporting communities, we give them a vital tool for hope, and motivate them to keep going.”

The women-only handball session is one of more than 30 weekly sport sessions delivered through the Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF)’s Terrains d’Avenir programme. The sessions are free and open to all.

The initiative uses a diverse offering of sports - including climbing, basketball, running, taekwondo, boxing and dance - to support the inclusion of displaced young people in their host communities in Paris and the wider Île-de-France region. Though spread across Paris, the programme focuses on the north-eastern part of the city – the epicentre of the Paris 2024 Games – where there is a high concentration of displaced people, and where barriers to sport are particularly high.


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