Playing sport has a wider impact than just being good for your health.
Getting involved in sport can have many positive outcomes, from boosting self-esteem and lowering stress levels to helping people to create good relationships. Sport also creates a number of benefits for inclusivity.
The Paralympic Games and similar events challenge the negative stereotypes of disability. On television, Channel 4’s BAFTA award winning coverage of the Games showcased the benefits to society of increased participation and representation of disabled people in sport.
Another way that playing sports aids inclusion is through developing people’s soft skills, which are particularly valuable to those with fewer opportunities. The social side of sport and the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a team is beneficial for those at risk of social exclusion, whilst teamwork, discipline and dependability are all attributes sought by potential employers.
Erasmus+ UK has played a valuable role in assisting sporting inclusion by fostering partnerships between organisations striving for inclusivity and providing funding for sports projects that aid those facing barriers.
Changing perceptions of disability
When Cinzia Savonitti started her volunteering journey with the Bryson Charitable Group in 2014, it opened her up to a range of new experiences.
Moving from Italy to Belfast made Cinzia step outside of her comfort zone in multiple ways; she needed to communicate in a different language, use public transport in a busy foreign city and approach tasks with a different mind-set. The project also uncovered her passion for dance.
“I met an amazing group of dancers that taught me that my crutches are not just something I need to walk but are part of me,” Cinzia explained. “I never thought it could be something to be proud of, the reason to meet new and interesting people and a way to see problems from a different angle, something that doesn't need hiding.”
Cinzia’s newfound confidence and change in attitude towards her disability helped in other areas of her life. Through her experience with the charity, Cinzia got a job at Queens University library.
Improving the employment prospects of NEET young people
By introducing participants to football club management, Vi-ability improved the employability of young people in deprived areas of Wales.
The project targeted people aged 18 to 25 who were not in education, employment or training (NEETs), particularly early school leavers and those from families with multigenerational unemployment.
Vi-ability taught participants how to run football-based marketing, coaching and community activities, whilst gaining qualifications and work experience. Sixty per cent of those who took part in the project went on to employment. Other participants undertook voluntary work or further education.
Bringing structure and support to those experiencing homelessness
The Homeless World Cup Foundation uses street football to motivate people experiencing homelessness to change their lives, as well as tackling societal attitudes towards them.
Rachel May, International Partnership Manager for the foundation, said: “The sense of empowerment that comes from participating in street football helps people who are homeless see that they can change their lives.”
Through its Erasmus+ UK project ‘International Partners Sharing Skills’ (IPASS), the charity is collaborating with its European partners to develop a “collective knowledge”, which the foundation hopes will be used by its partners worldwide.
Three European Street Football Festivals were held during the project, including one in Manchester. All participants had experienced homelessness or faced a form of social exclusion, including drug and alcohol dependency, mental health issues or their refugee status.
Rachel said: "Feedback from the Manchester event was very encouraging, with over 80% of the participants saying they increased their confidence, are better able to see others' point of view, improved their teamwork and relationship building and are better able to communicate with others."