How do you fit in or regain a foothold in society if you don’t have a network, no longer feel the strength or have lost all confidence in yourself and in the future? This question is asked by thousands of people all over France. Because people have had no support or come from distant countries, have experienced financial setbacks or health problems, have ended up on the streets or are confined within four walls, they no longer succeed in forging or renewing these social ties. of a life. Faced with this immense societal challenge posed by integration, very often a solution emerges in the discourse: sport. A very legitimate and natural reflex, as physical activity can be a great tool for integration when adapted to any situation, encouraged by sustainable means, but also protected from excessive ambitions. In any case, these are the fascinating and enlightened recommendations of sociologist Patrick Mignon who shares some valuable elements of understanding for POSITIVR.
Patrick Mignon, a sports specialist for several decades (he was notably a researcher at Insep), has published numerous works on the place of sport in our society. For him, there is no doubt: it is useful and necessary to bet on sports to encourage the integration of isolated groups.
Exercise allows you to “set up differently”
“Like artistic activities, sports and physical practices will create social bonds and inspire confidence”, he explains. However, the aspect of trust is absolutely essential, because that makes “be able to do something.” Alone and inactive, we lose touch with our potential. In movement with others and under their gaze, we find self-esteem.
“The multiplication of social capital, in other words, the multiplication of relationship channels, promotes more satisfying social participation or personal success (…) Thanks to physical activity, people will say to themselves: “I’m different from what I thought I was or what people thought of me.”†
To start or resume sports when you have lost all ties to society is in fact giving yourself the opportunity to back on trackto resume the thread of his journey.
“Physical activities allow isolated people to progress, integrate, belong, find their place. The important thing is to find the activity that will allow you to redefine yourself, start an identity reconstruction, redraw yourself in a different way. Sport is part of the existing offer (…) but has a greater appeal than artistic practice. It’s more accessible.”
“Sport succeeds when it meets expectations”
In other words, in terms of integration, sport can succeed where other places of socialization, such as school or the world of work, have failed. A foot? No doubt. A mystery ? Certainly not ! Patrick Mignon has a statement:
“The sports, explains the sociologist, can attract people who are not attracted to school at all and everything school entails, like reading or something like that. From this point of view, sport is positive because it is a place where people, in the context of a club or an activity, go to learn rules of social life, rules of hygiene, principles of regularity, etc. These are elements that have an interest in entering the labor market.”
However, be careful. Sport alone is not enough to regain a foothold in society. If it focuses only on performance and competitiveness, it will fail. Therefore, it is essential that it is accompanied by much broader objectives.
“Sport succeeds if it lives up to expectations, provided the club is welcoming and not only competitive, but also on the socio-educational values of sport.”
So when an isolated person discovers a real interest in sport and that it can be practiced collective in an inclusive framework that promotes valuesthen all hope is fair, no matter what situation has robbed you of social relations.
Sport, an integration activity suitable for all isolated groups
Sport as an integration tool is aimed at a wide range of target groups. To get an idea, here’s a short, non-exhaustive overview of the isolated people to whom associations or communities offer their help.
- Isolated women. Given their personal or family background, some women have lost their entire network of social relationships, both friendly and professional. In order to restore their self-confidence and to bring them back into contact with the “outside world”, initiatives therefore focus on sport. This is especially the case (for example) of the operation “Toute Sport” which aims to: “encouraging and developing the practice of sport by women living in priority neighborhoods and rural areas as a vector of self-confidence, autonomy and socio-professional integration†
- Homeless people. Living on the street or moving from home to home does not make it easier to regain control of a social life and, beyond that, a return to a stable professional activity. This is why many associations offer homeless people the opportunity to rely on sports to rebuild themselves, forge bonds and project themselves into the future. Among them we mention Un ballon pour l’insertion, of which Patrick Mignon is a member. This association for the integration of the homeless “proposes to build a relationship of trust with the person in difficulty based on the reactivation of the body, group expression and artistic creation”†
- immigrants. Culture shock, language barrier, absence of friends and family… Difficult to fit into a society if you come from far. To help immigrants find a place for themselves, sport can also be a tool. Laurent Thieule, president of the Sport and Citizenship think tank: “Sport is a favorable ground for building a new social bond with immigrants, whether they are older generations or migrants from recent months.”
- The long-term unemployed. Paralyzed by a sense of powerlessness and/or shame, the long-term unemployed sometimes give in to the justified temptation of withdrawal and isolation. To help those affected break this vicious circle, sport can be an effective remedy. The regional rugby league of Île-de-France, for example, no longer hesitates to bet on the oval ball to help the unemployed find a job.
- People with Disabilities. Whether the disability is physical, psychological, mental or sensory, it carries the risk of isolation from a society that struggles or is reluctant to adapt to differences. But sport has a card to play in this area too, provided the government shows some willpower. Example with the city of Mâcon where the access of people with disabilities to the practice of sport is a priority.
- The inactive youth† If you are young, have little or no education and have no network, integrating professionally into society is not an easy task. But if we have the opportunity to fall back on a sports practice, doors can open. The Unis vers le sport association has understood this well: since 2017, it has been developing a support system for socio-professional integration aimed at young people who are unemployed and/or without education.
- Detained persons. When one thinks of isolated audiences, one cannot possibly ignore the case of detainees, physically cut off from the outside world. Fortunately, sport can also be the way to keep the link with “normal life”. The French Union of Secular Works of Physical Education (Ufolep) is working precisely in this direction. Offering physical and sporting activities to prisoners has several objectives: “discovering the values of sport practice for self-development and for living in society, getting involved in a project from conception to execution, preparing for the reintegration of the prisoner…”
With regard to the detainees, Patrick Mignon specifies: “In the context of prison, sport can provide discipline, especially if it is collective. Because’he connects with others† Its practice can also be the means to a kind of meditative phase and introspection, self-control† Again, this is not a miracle solution, but sports are part of the offer.†
“Sport is a reconciliation with your body, with everything that comes with it”
If sport promotes integration, as we have just seen, it is of course because it allows reconnect with others (his training partners, teammates, opponents, referees, organizers, etc.) and because he is accustomed or re-accustomed to respecting the rules and sense of effort. But there is another aspect that should not be overlooked: the take control of your body†
“Sport is a reconciliation with your body, with everything that comes with it. Someone who is physically broken, for example because of alcohol or street life, if he finds a body that he can do with what he wants, it is really better for him and he feels more at ease in society than before.”
All these advantages eventually seduced the government, even though France has not used sport as a tool for integrating isolated groups for so long. Patrick Mignon dates the beginning of this strategy in the 1980s. “We then saw the emergence of associations that offer things and bring people together with socio-educational goals and reintegration goals.”
Some forty years later, even if it is “very difficult to establish statistics that measure the success of this type of initiative”, the sociologist is convinced that the approach is good, effective and relevant. It remains to perpetuate the current initiatives, to support the associations that know the field… and not to expect them to change the face of the world in an instant. “Sport is not a miracle solution, insists Patrick Mignon. USAis a tool that works by trial and error (…) and its effects are more snowballing than instant effects.”
The main thing is basically to let an isolated person embark on a journey to a life richer in social relationships and thus in personal success† This idea of progress, Patrick Mignon, places it at the heart of his reflection on the subject. In addition, he finally insists on this theme:
“Entering into a sporting activity is something that must be integrated into a sociological representation, namely that of the journey: a person starts from a certain point and through the interactions and encounters they will make in the sport, he will change the way of seeing of itself, of seeing society, and will consequently adopt forms of ‘regularization’ of its course. In other words, he will be part of a course in which he is no longer a victim of his traps, of physical deterioration, of complete exclusion, of being sidelined. He will regain a certain image of himself and renegotiate his relationship with society in a positive way.
When it comes to integration, sport cannot do everything, but it can do a lot. Huge even. Provided we encourage him, provided we give him the time and resources to offer the best he has in socio-educational values.
This article is brought to you by the editors of POSITIVR with the support of the EPSA Foundation.