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Non Dutch-speaking youngsters in the Rand miss out on social club experience

VUB research shows that sports clubs best promote social cohesion

The BRIO language barometer study led by VUB professor Rudi Janssens analysed the language situation in the 19 municipalities in the periphery of Brussels (“the Rand”) in 2014 and 2019. The study also surveyed families with children about their participation of in local youth activities. The results of 2014 and 2019 have now been compared and show that language plays an important role in participation in local community life. For example, the proportion of children and young people who speak Dutch at home is much higher than those who do not. Local sports clubs continue to be the most popular among young people regardless of their home language.

Janssens: “For young people, youth movements play an important role in their personal development, and in dealing with and collaborating with others. On a social level, it is an important element in promoting social cohesion. We note that young people with a different home language do not tend to join social clubs. Even in sports clubs, their presence is declining. The question is to what extent participation can be encouraged as part of an integration policy.”

In the study by BRIO, the Brussels Information, Documentation and Research Centre, a distinction is made between a local Dutch-language youth association (Jeugd NL), a local Dutch-language sports club (Sport NL) and the municipal playground (Speelplein). In a youth movement, knowledge of the language is important in order to be able to participate in activities, in a sports club sport dominates and in local playgrounds some municipalities pay extra attention to supporting the use of Dutch.

Local participation

The research shows that youth movements have the most homogenous audience: most members come from monolingual Dutch-speaking families, belong to the middle or upper class in terms of diploma level, and mostly go to Dutch-speaking schools. Other children find it more difficult to become involved in these youth movements. The low participation rate of French-speaking people can, however, partly be explained by the fact that they join French-speaking associations. Young people from non-Dutch/french-speaking families take the least part in local association life. They are completely absent from the youth movements. The composition of the playground is the most balanced.

Social cohesion

International research shows that it is mainly children from the middle class who participate in club life. Traditional youth clubs even have a “hereditary” character, with the parents of members also having been members of a club. Most local associations do not usually question this homogeneous composition. They are not necessarily averse to diversity, but neither do they actively seek it out. “Based on the fact that membership of a local association can be an indication of the social cohesion of this community, sports clubs in the Rand are therefore a more important factor in integration than traditional youth movements, which are composed much more on the basis of linguistic background. The question is to what extent this should be a point of attention in a policy aimed at social cohesion,” concludes Janssens.