Integration is easier in a sports club if the trainer is prepared to listen to the players and athletes and if the emphasis is on learning and and improving instead of winning and losing. (Photo: Colourbox)

Sport is good for integration

Sport can be a good way to integrate foreigners into society, new study finds.

Sport not only keeps you healthy and raises your IQ – it can also be a really good way to integrate foreigners into society.

New research shows that sports clubs' emphasis on development and learning rather than pure competition is vital for integration.

“A clearly positive factor for integration is the sports club's motivational climate, where it's a matter of learning and developing and perhaps working together creatively to resolve challenges,” says Anne-Marie Elbe, an associate professor at the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Copenhagen.

Another decisive factor for integration is the trainer's willingness to relinquish a little authority and let the players or athletes have influence on the training and daily life in the club.

The researchers looked at two types of identity to decide how integrated a person is:
Ethnic identity: How strongly attached a person is to his or her background from another country.
Cultural identity: How much a person lets himself be affected by the culture where he currently lives.
A person with a strong ethnic identity and a weak cultural identity is difficult to integrate. It is much easier to integrate a person with a good balance between the two identities.
The project aims to highlight that the club's atmosphere and the trainer's attitude affect these two identities.

“Democratic leadership is better than direct authority,” says Elbe, who headed the part of the study looking into club motivation and the trainer's leadership.

Not just winning or losing

Together with five researchers from other European countries, Elbe analysed answers to a questionnaire issued to some 1,600 members of sports clubs in Denmark, Germany, Greece, Spain and Britain.

The study looked at both elite and amateur members, aged 13 to 19, and included individual as well as team sports.

The answers indicate that neither the type of sport nor its level plays any role in whether or not a person feels integrated.

It is claimed that immigrants in e.g. Danish football clubs find it difficult to develop their skills because the trainer has too little authority, not too much. Associate Professor Anne-Marie Elbe says the project has not studied the trainer's impact on performance, only on integration.

Consequently, the researchers have a broader piece of advice for all sports clubs that want better integration:

“We recommendation that training programmes should be designed so the players and athletes work together in solving challenging tasks, where they together develop new abilities such as trying a new sport or for instance a dance,” says Elbe. “It is essential that this sports training is not only about winning or losing or involves 'us and them' activities.”

Easier to integrate women

In the questionnaire, the researchers tried to reveal how people feel about being integrated, with questions like:

  •  'How strongly are you attached to your ethnic identity/home country?'
  •  'How open are you to other people's ideas?'
  •  'How good are you at fitting in with your new culture?'

The main conclusions apply to all the countries, but there are differences in detail that may be related to the countries where the immigrants originate. In Denmark, Germany, Greece and Britain, women show a greater potential for integration than men, but not in Spain, where there is no difference between the sexes.

The researchers have so far only scratched the surface of the results and cannot explain the results with certainty, and this example shows that it is difficult to draw a single standard for integration that applies to all countries.

“Although we have identified factors that are important for integration in all five countries, it is vital that the recommendations are adapted to each country specifically,” adds Elbe.

Want to study integration in the clubs

This study gives us a general picture of whether people feel integrated and what integrates them.

The six researchers want to continue the study by teaching the trainers to work with difficult-to-integrate immigrants to see if their recommendations actually change anything. But the researchers lack the necessary funding for this.

The study was presented at a conference on Madeira held by the European Federation of Sport Psychology, FEPSAC, and will soon appear as scientific papers.


Read the article in Danish at

Translated by: Michael de Laine

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