ISSA 2023

2023 Keynote Address


Physical culture, forced migration, and resettlement: 
Lessons from the Kabul-Edmonton soccer team

فرهنگ بدنی (ورزش)، مهاجرت اجباری، و اسکان مجدد: درس هایی از تیم فوتبال کابلادمنتون

Ashraf Amiri, Doctoral Student, University of Massachusetts Boston

Professor Jay Scherer, University of Alberta

In January 2022, five months after the fall of Kabul, a group of 172 primarily Hazara refugees arrived in Edmonton, Alberta, having earlier travelled across the border to Pakistan amidst one of the largest and most protracted displacement crises in the history of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many had served as human rights defenders in Afghanistan, while others had assisted the US and Canadian military forces as battlefield interpreters against the Taliban. Upon their arrival in Edmonton, the Afghan newcomers and their children have been supported throughout a difficult resettlement period–one made even more challenging by Covid-19 quarantine regulations–by Free Play for Kids (FPFK), a non-profit, Sport for Development organization. FPFK staff, many of whom are immigrants and refugees themselves, have been actively involved in co-producing sports and recreational programming with the children of Afghan newcomers, and with many adults who aspired to be physically active in Edmonton. For several of the young men and women under 40 in this group–part of a generation of urban, middle class, educated Afghans who came of age during the US-led invasion of their country–these aspirations included continuing to play futsol and soccer, as they had done in Afghanistan and while perilously living without documentation in Pakistan. In partnership with FPFK, Kabul-Edmonton, a co-ed team comprised exclusively of Afghan newcomers, was subsequently formed and participated in an adult recreational soccer league throughout the spring and summer of 2022. In this presentation, we explore the results of a photo-voice project developed in creative collaboration with Kabul-Edmonton team members–several of whom had already been chronicling their journey to Edmonton–to explore the role(s) of sport as they rebuilt their lives and communities in exile in meaningful and different ways, often transcending hegemonic ideals of development and integration. We conclude by discussing the most salutatory lessons from this participatory project, as well as several calls to action, including that the Government of Canada fulfils its stated commitment to resettle 40,000 refugees from Afghanistan, and that the Department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada provides more significant resources to support newcomers on and off the field of play.

Keynote speakers

Ashraf Amiri is a doctoral student in Human Security and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He holds an MA in Conflict Resolution from the University of Massachusetts Boston and a BA in International Relations from Kateb University. Ashraf Amiri worked as a battlefield interpreter, researcher, and university lecturer in Afghanistan. He is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship.

Jay Scherer is a Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation at the University of Alberta.  He has published extensively on a range of political issues and debates and their intersections with sport and physical culture. His most recent community-based research explores the co-creation of sport and recreation opportunities by newcomers with refugee and forced migrant backgrounds and non-profit organizations in Edmonton, Alberta.