Interview with Pieter Smets, staff member at Demos
How is your organisation involved with the Urban Youth Games?
“On the part of Demos, as a knowledge centre, we give visibility to interesting initiatives with an ambition to work on participation and inclusion. We provide coaching and we also write articles. In the past, I worked with UYG employee Ciara to make an article about the playbooks.”
Why do you choose to collaborate with the Urban Youth Games?
“Because of its vision to put inclusion on the agenda and because I think UYG presents itself as a ‘bridge-building organisation’. We do not have that yet in Flanders and Belgium. UYG hovers a bit in between: you cannot really call it a federation, nor a socio-sportive practice with a fixed offer, nor merely an event organiser… But it is an organisation that can be a pivotal figure connecting different organisations such as schools, sports clubs, federations and local authorities. And with the playbooks, they also develop new ‘hands on’ material that you as a teacher, trainer, sports club… can use in practice.”
What does inclusion mean?
“In my opinion, working inclusively means consciously choosing an approach that ensures that everyone is included: in your sports lessons, in your sports club, in your school… In my opinion, you can only work inclusively when you also effectively recognise that certain people in our society are excluded today. You have to dare to acknowledge that systemic problem. So you have to work around the realisation that you cannot reduce such problems to individual problems that people have to solve themselves. You can work inclusively by differentiating your approach and making sure that everyone can get on board at different speeds.”
“Inclusion is a process that cannot be reduced to individuals alone, but also has a great deal to do with organisations. Inclusive organisations ensure that their organisation is also adapted to the needs of their less advantaged target group, and consequently have a good representation of the intended target group in their management, board of directors, etc. Working in an inclusive manner is also about redistributing power. This causes friction, and when it happens, it is a sign that something is changing!”
What role can sport play in this?
“I am kicking in the door by saying that sport is a magnet, because more than other sectors it has a very spontaneous reach of a large group of people of various origins, ages, income groups… Sport reflects society and at the same time we have to acknowledge that ‘in itself’ sport is still too often the object of exclusion, racism and discrimination. We must therefore never simply say that sport unites, because that would be to turn a blind eye to the many micro-aggressions and exclusion mechanisms that many sports contexts install. Consciously or unconsciously. This is precisely why organisations such as UYG are needed: to ensure that the potential of inclusion is also effectively redeemed in sport instead of children and young people experiencing exclusion through sport.”