Each year on 20th June, the world celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home countries to escape conflict or persecution. This year, World Refugee Day focuses on solidarity with refugees, for a world where refugees are welcomed.

On World Refugee Day 2024 and every day, the International Judo Federation stands with refugees, supporting their inclusion and protection proudly through the unifying power of sport. As a member of the Sport for Refugees Coalition, we are dedicated to supporting long-term solutions for refugees, fostering a world where refugees are welcome!

For a long time now, the great judo family has been mobilising to provide concrete solutions to a crisis that has accelerated and worsened in recent years. In its latest report, the UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees) highlights that the number of forcibly displaced people in the world reached the staggering number of 117.3 million in 2023 (68.3 million internally displaced people, 31.6 refugees under UNHCR mandate, 6.9 million asylum-seekers, 6 million Palestinian refugees under UNRWAS' mandate, 5.8 million other people in need of international protection).

These shocking statistics are further reinforced when we understand that this represents more than one person in 69 directly affected by the refugee crisis. Behind the numbers there are, above all, human tragedies that can be moderated by sport and especially by judo.

To date, the IJF has developed several large-scale projects in order to give thousands of young people the opportunity to flourish through the sport, while learning skills for life and values ​​that will allow them to overcome the horrors of life.

The projects led by the IJF, the Judo for Peace Commission and the International Relations Department are spread over a vast territory that stretches from the south of Türkiye (Kilis) to the extreme south of Africa (Judo For Peace South Africa), via Zambia (Meheba, Mayukwayukwa, and soon Mantapala), Zimbabwe (Tongogara) and Malawi (Dzaleka). At the end of 2023, a new project began to emerge in Kenya (Kakuma), currently under further development.

While many of the initiatives implemented are in the immediate vicinity of refugee camps, Judo for Peace South Africa focuses on the integration of refugees already living in new communities and has developed strong partnerships, including Nike, Three2six, Future Families and Grassroots Soccer, while all programmes around the world are systematically conducted together with national judo federations.

Whatever the situation of each forcibly displaced person is, the underlying philosophy is to enable those whom have often lost everything to find the conditions for a better life. This involves teaching the values ​​of respect and friendship, as well as meaningful and fraternal exchanges with host communities, which often also need support.

The projects are carried out in active co-operation with the UNHCR, with which a global partnership was signed in February 2022. Since then, co-ordination with the UNHCR has only strengthened, leading to several partnerships at the local level (https://www.ijf.org/news/show/unhcr-ministry-of-home-affairs-and-judo-association-of-zambia-sign-tripartite-mou).

The IJF also co-operates with the UNAOC (United Nations Alliance of Civilizations) in the framework of the #Sport4OneHumanity programme that underlines, "The universality of sport and its unifying power have been recognised as powerful tools to promote peace, tolerance and understanding. The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, adopted in 2015, explicitly stressed the ‘growing contribution of sport to the realisation of development and peace’. Civil society organisations have for a long time recognised the potential of sport in peace and development by adopting the use of sport in fulfilling their objectives."

The IJF is an active member of the Sport for Refugees Coalition that explores the innovative role of sports in advancing refugee self-reliance. The Sport for Refugees Coalition is co-led by the Olympic Refuge Foundation, the UNHCR and the SCORT Foundation. It consists of more than 80 entities from governments, to National Olympic Committees, International Sports Federations, clubs, associations, and civil society organisations. All these entities came together in 2019, pledging to use sports to improve the lives of refugees.

All those projects are focusing in the educational development of the youth. In parallel, the IJF has developed a strong refugee team which has been participating in World Judo Tour events throughout the Olympic qualifying period for Paris 2024 and they will be present this summer in the French capital (https://www.ijf.org/news/show/the-adventure-continues-for-the-refugee-team). Their commitment to the sport plays an important role, advocating for the refugees. All the team members are role models for millions of people around the world.

According to the statistics, there is still a lot to be done to help all those who need it. The IJF is committed to following Jigoro Kano's motto, jita kyoei, mutual welfare and benefit. Through the philosophy of the sport and moreover through concrete actions on the field, to date, thousands of young people have benefited from our sport. The whole judo family shows its solidarity with refugees on a regular basis and we are happy to create the conditions where refugees are and feel welcomed.

Happy World Refugee Day 2024!

See also