March 13th, 2013

Sports and recreation as an instrument for social inclusion

March 13th, 2013

With the Harper government’s recent adjustments to Canada’s immigration policy, it will be important for nonprofits working in the field of ethnic groups, visible minorities, and immigrants to adapt and innovate during these times of change. With modern restrictions on access to funding and the rising prevalence of immigration in Canada, the sector needs to be open to new opportunities.

I would argue there is an opportunity in working more collaboratively with other nonprofits that are not focused on immigration per se, but could benefit the immigration process. Nonprofits working in the field of sports and recreation are in an excellent position to serve as an integration mechanism for new Canadians. Sports and recreation are globally viewed as healthy leisure activities that are safe and accessible in terms of both cost and availability. Moreover, sports and recreation has the unique ability to bring communities together. I had a chance to connect with the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism (now the Minister of Employment and Skills Development, 2014) on the topic, and he also gave his support:


In 2003, about 161,000 nonprofits were operating across the country ( The leading area (21%) of activity was sports and recreation (with religion being a close second). Nonprofits that focused on ethnic groups, visible minorities, and immigrants accounted for only 3.6% of all nonprofits. However, over 5 million Canadians identified themselves as a member of a visible minority group in the 2006 Census, accounting for 16.2% of the total population; and in 2005, the number of Canadians that participated in sports was a dismal 28% of the population (a decline from 45% in 1992). Considering there are a growing number of immigrants with only a small number of immigrant-related nonprofits, and a declining number of Canadians participating in sports with a relatively substantial supply of sports and recreation nonprofits, perhaps these two types of nonprofits could work together to better serve the changing demographics in Canada; or more directly put, could sports and recreation nonprofits help progress the mandate of immigrant-related nonprofits while improving their own goals at the same time?

I would argue the answer is yes. Sports and recreation nonprofits could expand their mandate in providing additional products or services to immigrants, in partnership with nonprofits focused on ethnic groups, visible minorities, and immigrants (or some other collaborative framework). With the vast number of sports and recreation nonprofits and their unique position with regards to accessibility and potential for community integration, the needs of these easily segregated groups would be better served, benefitting not only them, but also society as a whole. It is also interesting to note that the mother tongue (the first childhood language) has little to no impact on the rate of sport participation, which provides further evidence that sports and recreation are an accessible means for new Canadians to connect with their communities.

Not only will this strategy be a potential response in combatting the negative trend in Canadian sports participation by being more open and inclusive to immigrants that might not have otherwise participated, but it will also foster a greater sense of belonging established around Canadian values.

Sports associations and other organizations can use sports and recreation to promote newcomer integration into the local community, promote community connections, and facilitate a deeper appreciation for the local community by immigrants and vice versa, with their contributions being valued by the community. There is ample empirical evidence to confirm that contact between members of groups under specific conditions that are present in sports is likely to lead to improved intergroup relations and understanding (see Pathways to Prosperity). This is especially true for recent immigrants because of the equal group status, mutual interdependence in working toward common goals and intergroup cooperation that is involved in sports and recreational activities.

Therefore, more sports and recreation nonprofits should leverage their special status as a starting-point to connect with new Canadians in partnership with immigrant-related nonprofits as a means to combat recent funding cutbacks and to address the shifting climate to keep Canada inclusive, active, and healthy.

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