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Can football enhance the lives of refugees? – new study

A new project from researchers at Loughborough University is set to investigate how football may improve the lives of refugees.

Led by Doctoral Researcher, Alessio Norrito, the study will critically assess how the sport, and the wider culture it brings, can be harnessed positively for forced migrants who cross the Mediterranean into the Sicilian region of Italy.

The study will look at the role the sport can provide during resettlement in Europe, including fostering inclusion of those new to the country.

It will also look at aspects of the functional development of transferrable skills beyond football, guided by the migrant populations themselves. This includes:

  • Communication and language – by learning Italian and Sicilian dialect.
  • Social skills – making helpful connections with the community, eventually leading to increased employment opportunities.
  • Cultural knowledge – learning customs of their new community, as well as practical information.
  • Physical skills – learning to exercise and be healthy beyond the domain of football, as a general tool for wellbeing.

During the project, Alessio will speak directly to migrants, to better understand the need to bring together communities. He will also engage with Sicilian-based “Sport for Development and Peace” programs aimed at supporting refugees upon arrival.

“The project aims to include the voices of refugees in the discussion surrounding football and social inclusion,” he explained.

“Every football enthusiast has a personal story that shapes the value and meaning that football has in their lives. This is not different for refugees. The key is to understand these meanings, to build a foundation for future developmental efforts aimed at refugee populations and their well-being.

“Such foundations are necessary, to make sure that we are not imposing our understanding of football, thus improving the inclusivity of Sport for Development and Peace programs.”

Alessio has worked collaboratively with professional football teams Palermo FC, and ACR Messina, as well as non-governmental organisations including Don Bosco 2000 and Mediterranean Hope for the study’s data collection.

Dr Carolynne Mason, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Social Justice, and co-supervisor of the project with Professor Richard Giulianotti, added:

“The project has generated significant interest in Italy from a range of stakeholders who are keen to learn more about the value that football has in supporting transitions for new arrivals.

“Alessio will be engaging settled migrants in analysing data from the project to ensure that the learning from the project is unique and fully reflects the authentic experiences of refugees across all stages of their journeys.”


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 22/118

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.