Sport promotes peace and social cohesion
Balls, gloves and rackets are usually synonymous with duals or head-to-heads between teams. And what if they also eased tensions between communities and peoples? This is what is suggested by a study conducted by two researchers from Uppsala University (Sweden) in post-apartheid South Africa. “Sport supports the process of peacebuilding by bridging relationships across groups and communities that might otherwise tend towards distrust and hostility”, a recent United Nations report also points out.
Since 1993, the international organization has been using the concept of Olympic truce during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, renewing every four years its desire to see ceasefires observed. The objectives: promote peace and firstly allow participants to go to the games and participate in them safely.
“For example, United Nations agencies and programs organize football matches between Palestinian and Israeli children. They are small occasional solutions to systemic problems, but they contribute to changing mentalities”, explains Benjamin Coudert, Sport and Development Officer at Agence Française de Développement (AFD).
AFD will soon be launching a digital platform entirely devoted to sport with the aim of connecting actors from the sector and development actors. It should enable projects for sustainable peace to be financed in several regions of the world.
It facilitates social inclusion…
Sport allows people with different origins or social statuses to mix and build or strengthen links. But it is also a powerful integration tool for people in situations of precariousness. It is a universal language.
“Building a football pitch in a strategic location allows children from wealthy families and young people from deprived neighborhoods to get together on the same ground”, notes Benjamin Coudert. “At times when institutions decline, sport can be accorded the status of institution. It will generate values, ideals, it will favor standards and build a language that applies in society as a whole”, observes Thierry Oblet, a sociologist at the University of Bordeaux II.
In Johannesburg, in South Africa, since 2017, thanks to AFD’s support, the NGO Sport for Social Change Network has been organizing sports activities in urban areas to promote the social and vocational integration of young people and deter them from crime. Its magic weapon? A van which allows it to travel around with the sports equipment to meet people in various neighborhoods in the city to organize physical activities and games.
…and contributes to women’s empowerment
While sport is a field where deep gender inequalities still prevail – the bonuses promised to female football players in the event of victory at the World Cup are an example –, it is also an excellent driver for promoting women's empowerment, according to UNESCO.
And for good reason: sport is an excellent way of enhancing the physical and mental capacities of women and, by doing so, building their self-confidence and their autonomy, asserting their personality, or developing leadership capacities, in contexts where their body is often a societal issue.
Marie-Cécile Naves, Doctor of Political Science and researcher at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), develops this argument in her book Sport as a means of empowering women and girls all over the world: “Whether it ‘simply’ involves being able to do a physical activity in a safe and inclusive place; to regain, by and through your body, self-confidence; rebuild your identity after a forced marriage or a rape […], sport shows us that it is the universal language, inspiring, capable of transcending borders, cultures, beliefs, physical differences”.
In Senegal, the Seed Academy training program for young African leaders, which places great emphasis on basketball, has already proved its benefits for women’s empowerment. “In the documentaries we’ve seen, a girl tell us that after two years at the Seed Academy, where she was vice-captain of her sports team, she felt sufficiently comfortable to speak in front of a camera, whereas as the last girl in her family, she never dared to speak during meals”, says Benjamin Coudert.
Sport raises awareness among the general public…
Sporting events and sports activities are an effective way of mobilizing the public for causes related to sustainable development or international solidarity. An example is an original run called “No Finish Line”, organized in Monaco in 2017 for deprived or sick children where participants added a euro to the funding pot of the association Children and Future for each kilometer run during a week. The result: over EUR 436,000 were raised!
Other initiatives sensitize young people to difficult subjects – such as sexually transmitted diseases, disability or the protection of the environment – while allowing them to enjoying themselves. For example, the NGO Play International, which AFD has been supporting for several years, has specialized in “playdagogy”: awareness-raising through games. “One project involved getting children to play a rather special dodgeball: to go onto the field once they had been hit, they had to pass in front of signs giving information about certain sexually transmitted diseases then answer a short questionnaire. I can tell you that the children took the knowledge on board very quickly!”, says Benjamin Coudert.
Further reading: Mayotte, Breaking Down Clichés Through Sports
The influence of high-level sportspersons also benefits the Sustainable Development Goals. “When a professional basketball player from the NBA advises young people to stop throwing their plastic bottles on the ground or in the river, it has a much greater impact than when it is a teacher or an elected official”, observes the Sport and Development Officer. For example, FAO, UNICEF and the World Bank regularly call on world-class athletes for awareness-raising campaigns.
…and it boosts local employment
Sport does not only stimulate muscles, but also the economies of the countries where it is played. Its development in territories leads to the establishment of companies – and therefore to local job creation – related to the various needs that result from it: manufacturing of equipment, maintenance and operation of facilities, rental, transport, management of teams… These are all activities that cannot be relocated.
The role of sport in the global economy is constantly growing. It today accounts for 2% of world GDP, according to the OECD, and its growth rate is higher than the global economy. The reception of major international sporting events has had positive benefits in various sectors. The objective now is to make these benefits sustainable, with economic models adapted to contexts, so that everyone gains from these benefits, both locally and in the long term.
“We don’t want sport to be considered only from a business perspective, but for it to benefit local communities as much as possible. We don’t finance sport, we use sport as a vehicle for our action for sustainable development”, sums up Benjamin Coudert. Sport has now entered the field of development.