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Sport – common ground helps locals and expats alike

New research has shown that as well as boosting brain power and preventing illness, involvement in sport teams can also help foreigners assimilate into their new communities. 

By Ella Revitt

Evidence from various European countries has established that sports are a great way to incorporate expats into local activities. “A clearly positive factor for integration is the sports club’s motivational climate, where it’s a matter of learning and developing”, says professor Anne-Marie Elbe from the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Copenhagen.

Basel is certainly no exception. This city boasts many elite and amateur sporting events each year, as well as a wide range of clubs for all abilities. For international students in particular, being a member of local sporting clubs has helped them feel accepted by the community.

Joining a team can initially be daunting. Sydney Frank from New Jersey (USA) admits that before she joined Leichtathletik Club Therwil (LCT) she was “scared that I wouldn’t fit in, and at first it was quite difficult.” Sydney and I actually joined the club together. This made the entire process much easier; however, it is important to ensure that you engage with other club members and speak German as much as possible.

Over time, Sydney and I were able to make friends and feel included within the team. As long as you make an effort to immerse yourself and approach others with best intentions, you will be accepted by your new Swiss teammates. Many Swiss people actually wanted to speak English with us. The language barrier ceased to be an issue: they would talk to us in English while we responded in German.

As well as improving her German, Sydney says, “you’re able to experience the culture first-hand.” Alexander Lowry from Texas (USA), a member of Old Boys Basel’s football section, agrees. “Joining the club has allowed me to learn about Swiss culture through my teammates.”

Being a member of a local club is also a great way to expand sporting horizons. I am now a member of the “Leistungszentrum Nordwestschweiz”, a regional athletics squad that I would never have known about had I not first joined LCT. As well as cantonal, regional and national championships in which I can now compete using my Swiss Athletics licence, I am also able to attend training camps with the club.

Sports facilities – like the athletics track in Muttenz – are always close at hand in the Basel area. (Picture by Ella Revitt)

There is a multitude of sports opportunities available in the Basel area. To pick just one example: Turnverein Muttenz offers athletics, gymnastics, handball, floorball, basketball and volleyball squads for various ages. The sports complex in St Jakob has a running track; beach volleyball, basketball and football outdoor pitches; a swimming pool; ice rink; 12 indoor sports halls. Scattered around Basel-Land are various Vita-Parcours: fitness trails in the forests that can be found in Binningen, Liestal, Dornach, Aesch, Therwil, Muttenz and Birsfelden.

There are also several possibilities for spectators. To name just a few: you have the St. Jakob-Park, the largest stadium in Switzerland and managed by FC Basel, where this autumn you will again be able to watch Champions League football – and recently even a Europa League final was played there. The Swiss Indoors Tennis competition in October regularly features some of the world’s top players; and there is the annual “Beachtour” in June, with several beach volleyball teams playing at Barfüsserplatz – the list goes on. There is opportunity for conversation and interaction with the locals at these events.

If the language issue really is a concern, there are also expat-focused teams and groups that participate in sport events. The Basel Dragons, for example, are an English-speaking all-inclusive running club. “Firmensport” includes many corporation and company teams, ranging from bowling to skiing – and there you may find many expats.

But if possible, joining a local Swiss team is highly recommended. The benefits and rewards far outweigh any initial difficulties. Valentina Bos, a fencer who has competed at European and World Junior Championships for the Netherlands, accredits the Fechtgesellschaft Basel: “I feel like I have a place in the Swiss society.”


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