Sport as a path to integration in Croatian society

17 July 2024

Swimming, chess, para taekwondo, cricket, freestyle wrestling, football, dance – these are all sports and recreational activities that have become an integral part of the lives of JRS beneficiaries. From serious training to weekend recreation, JRS carefully monitors the growth, development, and integration of refugees into the new society, providing support to those who have sought their new or temporary home in Croatia. Sport is an essential activity in the lives of both children and adults, often proving to be a key component of psychophysical rehabilitation, progress, and social integration.

Challenges in participating in sports activities

A talented Ukrainian young man, a footballer who arrived in Croatia with his family to escape the war in his homeland, faced a series of difficulties on his journey to participate in sports activities. Besides the language barrier, JRS recognized broader issues, including challenges in joining clubs and participating in competitions. Through collective efforts, the Ukrainian young footballer continues his sports journey in an excellent Croatian club.

Initiatives for support and integration

Psychologists agree that regular physical activity plays a crucial role in mental health, improves physical well-being, significantly impacts emotional well-being, reduces stress, and promotes a positive mood. Therefore, in addition to encouraging and monitoring refugees who professionally aspire to engage in sports, JRS regularly organizes sports activities, such as football matches. Youngsters and adults not only enjoy exciting games and training but also engage in socializing, getting to know each other, and having conversations. This fosters unity and tolerance among members of different cultures. The ultimate goal is to form football teams and continue the practice of joint matches, as interest among users is high.

JRS emphasizes with pride the collaboration initiated in 2023 with the Croatian Para Taekwondo Association (HPTS). Dedicated coaches are committed to training children with disabilities, promoting values of unity, tolerance, and empathy among children and youth. Conversations with the mothers of participating children reveal how these activities positively impact their daily lives and contribute to overall physical and mental health.

This collaboration also led to the initiative of self-defense training for women. JRS recognized the need for certain women facing crisis situations, including, unfortunately, domestic violence. After training, women experience reduced tension, improved sleep quality, and better focus on other activities, especially learning the Croatian language. These programs allow women to enhance their physical and mental health, providing them with a sense of security, confidence, and often financial relief, as they may lack the means to pay for such training.

Struggle and success through martial arts and swimming

JRS follows the story of a boy with mild intellectual difficulties but exceptional strength and agility demonstrated since early childhood. Passionate about freestyle wrestling in Ukraine, he achieved excellent results and enrolled in a sports school. Despite several bone fractures and a war that hindered the realization of his sports dreams, this young man’s persistence persists, and JRS will continue to support his efforts in his new country.

Another boy with cerebral palsy is dedicated to judo, training at a club in Samobor. Although it was his first encounter with judo, he quickly entered his first competition, winning a bronze medal. His unwavering dedication, despite obstacles, is reflected in the smile he always wears. The happiness and progress of these children in the favorable circumstances they found in Croatia form the basis of their desire to stay, where they can build their new home. This is also the hope for a 13-year-old girl who recently stood out with a successful performance at the Swimming Festival in Rijeka. Developmental challenges, a new language, culture, and material obstacles did not stop her. She hones her swimming skills in Varaždin, achieving excellent results in three competitions in Croatia, and her dedication and ambitions will not stop there.

Creative initiatives: cricket and dance

An interesting initiative emerged among Ukrainian women who recognized the dual value of cricket training, an unusual sport for the region. While dedicating themselves to cricket, professional psychologists work with their children, creating a harmonious blend of physical and mental well-being.

Sundays are reserved for dance. In the city center, a cheerful Venezuelan and Ukrainian, former JRS beneficiaries themselves, volunteer to teach Tango and Salsa dance steps during JRS’s intercultural gatherings. These dancers bring together different generations in the spirit of dance joy and unity.

For many refugees, sport is not just recreation; it represents a path to integration, self-confidence, and psychophysical health. These highlighted stories testify to that, emphasizing the strength of a community coming together to support opportunities for growth, development, and building a better future in Croatia. JRS will continue its commitment to support all initiatives, building partnerships with local sports organizations and clubs, and inviting everyone interested to actively participate.

This news has been sourced and translated from Vatican News Croatia: