World Rugby is supporting the United Nations’ World Refugee Day on June 20, dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world.

As an international federation and Olympic sport, World Rugby recognises the power of sport to act as a catalyst for peace and societal development. Along with the global rugby family, World Rugby recognises that it has a shared responsibility to use rugby to improve lives and communities.

Some 70.8 million people in the world were reported to be displaced at the end of 2018, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

As part of its commitment as a sport for all, World Rugby is working with two rugby for development initiatives engaged in community and sporting efforts to support the integration of refugees into their new surroundings.

The two projects, Rugby United in Germany and Rugby Opens Borders in Austria, are part of World Rugby’s Spirit of Rugby programme, which promotes and supports the delivery of meaningful projects across identified key themes relating to sport for development - social inclusion, gender equity, health, education, environmental sustainability and sport for all.

Rugby United is an initiative by Rugby Sport Verein Köln e.V. (RSV Köln), a rugby club in Cologne, Germany, to help refugees integrate into the German community. It started in the summer of 2016 as the brainchild of four of Cologne’s women’s players.

Following a huge influx of refugees to Germany, integration into German society was a growing concern. With its core values of discipline, respect, integrity, passion and solidarity, the women believed that rugby could help the newcomers integrate into their new society and bring more players to the sport they love.

Rugby United has won important recognition and support for its work through several awards and in 2017 established an international cooperation with “Sport for Development”, a Venezuelan non-governmental organisation, to share best practises for the use of sport as a tool for development and integration.

In February 2019, programme coordinators and participants had a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Trophy Tour and have their photos taken with the iconic Webb Ellis Cup as the tour stopped off in Cologne to pay Rugby United a visit in recognition of its important work to support rugby for all.

Rugby Opens Borders (ROB) gives young refugees and migrants the opportunity to become part of the Austrian rugby community both on and off the pitch. Besides weekly training, get-togethers including cooking and eating together and other social activities, team-building measures like workshops, excursions and festivities promote its aim to dissolve borders and enable young refugees to become part of the Austrian society.

ROB is a joint effort of several rugby clubs as well as the Austrian Rugby Union (ÖRV) that contribute coaches and volunteers and host players from the ROB programme. It is based on the core values of rugby and aims to foster integration of the program’s participants through these values.

The initiative is coordinated by the Viennese club Rugby Union, Donau Wien, and has won many awards including the 2016 World Rugby Award for Character. ROB is also currently the subject of a documentary being shown as part of an Austrian film festival.

So far well in excess of 100 training sessions have taken place involving over 200 participants which has also resulted in the establishment of a ROB girls’ team to strengthen female participation, gender equality and empowerment of female refugees and migrants.

With the support of World Rugby and other stakeholders, ROB’s objectives in the future include additional team building activities, workshops on anti-violence and personal development, and activities to support language learning and improve access to the job market for programme participants.

Both partners are working together to look at further collaborative opportunities and ways to share knowledge so that the rugby family and communities elsewhere may benefit from their experiences in implementing and delivering rugby for refugee projects.

The inclusion of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was a landmark moment and World Rugby’s Spirit of Rugby projects are closely aligned with the values of the Olympic Refuge Foundation, which was founded by the International Olympic Committee in 2017 for sports-based projects to support refugee populations across the world with a focus on protecting, developing and empowering children and youth in vulnerable situations.