Cork-founded running initiative wins top inclusivity award

Cork-founded running initiative wins top inclusivity award

Rob Heffernan, Olive Loughnane, Marian Heffernan and Claire Lambe with fellow Sanctuary Runners. Picture: Clare Keogh

The Sanctuary Runners have been named as one of Europe’s top Social Inclusion in Sport initiatives.

The group received the accolade on Thursday at the European Commission #BeInclusive Awards in Brussels.

The movement, founded in Cork in February 2018 by writer and broadcaster Graham Clifford, uses running to bring together asylum seekers, refugees, and members of the wider Irish public.

With more than 1,300 runners across Ireland, the Sanctuary Runners Movement was recognised as one of nine projects celebrated at a reception attended by Tibor Navracsics, the European commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport.

Graham Clifford, and Yolanda Mhene, Sanctuary Runners, in Brussels at the #BeInclusive Social Inclusion in Sport Awards held by the European Commission.
Graham Clifford, and Yolanda Mhene, Sanctuary Runners, in Brussels at the #BeInclusive Social Inclusion in Sport Awards held by the European Commission.

It was one of two Irish projects selected from a long list of 144 from across the continent — the other being the Cork-based Irish Prison Service Community Sports Coaching Programme.

“This is a huge moment for the Sanctuary Runners and shows just how open-minded, compassionate, and decent Irish society can be,” Mr Clifford said. “Our movement welcomes everyone and our focus is on solidarity, friendship and respect. It has been welcomed across the country but in Cork especially — its home. Running is a great equaliser and so when we run, we run as equals. Friendships develop and the running becomes secondary.”

Mr Clifford said Irish people involved in the running group also learn more about Ireland’s migration system and the conditions in which asylum seekers live, by running with those living in direct provision.

“Our friends who are seeking international protection also learn more about us,” he said. “We become informed and so we work to tackle the misconceptions and, often, irrational fears which can develop when this kind of respectful interaction doesn’t take place on a regular basis.”

The Sanctuary Runners can now be found in Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Kerry, Longford, Wicklow, Athlone, Sligo, and Mayo. The initiative plans to have 1,000 members taking part in next year’s Cork City Marathon and to hold a ‘Solidarity Run with Migrants’ in Tokyo during next summer’s Olympic Games. The initiative has been supported since its inception by the Social Inclusion unit at Cork City Council and by former Olympians such as Rob and Marian Heffernan, Claire Lambe, Olive Loughnane, Lizzie Lee, and Sonia O’Sullivan.

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