Posted on April 06, 2017
Sport has the inherent power to bring communities together, to provide a sense of inclusion to people living on the fringes of society and to solve a myriad of social problems. The power of sport to bring people together and to overcome racial and cultural barriers has been proven globally by numerous initiatives and interventions. However, I would like to pose the following question: Why is it that a powerful tool like sport does not sustainably contribute to social change?
My question could be answered from several viewpoints. The measurement and evaluation of the social impact of Sport for Development and Peace offers one reason. Funding provides another. I want to add the relegation of responsibility for initiatives as an often-overlooked reason why Sport for Development and Peace struggles to develop into a recognisable and sustainable force in development studies. Whose responsibility is it to effect social change through sport?
Your first thought might be that it is an easy question to answer: ‘It is the government's responsibility.' Government officials, however, believe it is the responsibility of citizens – true to neo-liberalism. As the finger pointing to find a responsible party circles around role players in sport, it becomes clear that advocates for the use of sport for development and peace have become reliant on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and volunteers to carry the torch. NGOs have indeed had great success with interventions utilising sport as tool for social change, but the responsibility for driving a powerful tool such as sport in developing communities and creating opportunities for peace cannot be shouldered by a selected few. This responsibility should be shared – and that include you and me.
An erroneous perception exists that Sport for Development and Peace is a tool that should only be used in marginalised communities and societies living in conflict. Although it is crucial within these communities, sport can also be used to develop the community in which you live. If you can walk, start a walking group. If you have kids, why not start a play group in the park on Saturdays? Once you start looking critically at the needs of people within your community, you will be surprised to see that there are unmet needs that can be fulfilled by sport opportunities. Start with a goal, such as including the elderly, and take it from there.
If you believe in the power of sport, put this belief to good use. Get involved in the activities of a local NGO and help to support the invaluable work that they do. You might not be comfortable running an activity, but you may be good at helping with lunch, or giving hugs – the opportunities for you to get involved are endless.
Celebrate World Sport for Development and Peace Day on 6 April by sharing in the responsibility for creating social change. If you believe that sport can change people's lives, get involved!
About the author
Dr Engela van der Klashorst is a lecturer in the Department of Sport and Leisure Studies at the University of Pretoria and has been involved in developing communities in South Africa through sport and recreation for the last 17 years. She has been announced as the winner of the International Sociology of Sport Association's 2017 Postgraduate Award for her paper highlighting the plight of youth leaders working in Sport for Development and Peace.
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