Breaking cultural barriers through sport – how one community used sport

Newcomer youth in Fredericton, New Brunswick, have more opportunities to participate in sport thanks to the Newcomer Youth Participation in Sports (NYPS) program. The program was created by the Multicultural Association of Fredericton (MCAF) to help young newcomers engage with other members of their community through a variety of fun sports.

Lisa Bamford, director of Newcomer Programs for the MCAF, has seen the many obstacles that new Canadians, especially youth, face when they arrive in Canada. Unless programs are designed to address language barriers, cultural differences and logistical issues such as transportation, accessing sport and recreation can be a huge hurdle for them.

“They have the added difficulties of being in a new country and new culture,” explains Bamford. Making friends, expressing themselves and trying to fit in are all significant challenges for newcomers. Even something as simple as a class field trip to a skating rink can further separate newcomers from their peers.

“Newcomer youths’ lack of exposure to Canada’s winter sports puts them at a great disadvantage with their Canadian peers,” says Bamford. “It increases the cultural gap, causes isolation and makes it more difficult for them to participate, fit in and forge friendships.”

True Sport’s support for the creation of the NYPS program has helped the MCAF introduce newcomer and refugee youth to sport opportunities in their new country. The MCAF was also able to provide youth with rides and bus tickets so they could travel to their activities and the MCAF ensured that initial registration fees were not a barrier for families. A loaning library was created so that youth could have access to sport equipment. The library allows youth to “try out” a variety of mainstream North American sports before parents commit to investing in equipment.

Skating, ice hockey, downhill skiing, soccer and rock-climbing are all sports that newcomer youth can try and practice. Grade 11 student Damodar Kuikel, from Nepal, says that “Playing sports is important for any newcomer youth because they get to meet new friends and they also learn about Canadian sports and culture as well. If every newcomer had a chance to make a sports team that would be great.”

But the youth involvement in these sports is not only limited to playing. Many newcomers take on mentorship, coaching and officiating roles. This engagement helps to enhance the diversity of role models in Fredericton’s local sports leagues and organizations.

Participation in sport also helps newcomer families connect with recreational activities in their community. New Canadians arriving in Fredericton see a safe and fun way to experience Canadian culture. Bamford explains, “Parents who may be uncomfortable pursuing these recreational experiences by themselves, perhaps because of language barriers, are more likely to go and explore these recreational spaces with the support of their children.”

Bamford smiles when she thinks about how the youth touched by NYPS and True Sport are able to transcend some of the cultural or linguistic barriers that they deal with in everyday life. “People from diverse cultures coming together in sport builds a strong and more inclusive community,” says Bamford. “It’s hard not to smile at that!”