Everything to play for

Oliver Dudfield & Bruce Kidd

Despite being embraced by a number of organisations and programmes from around the world whose aim is to promote democracy and equality, the legacy of the Gleneagles Agreement is in question, write Oliver Dudfield and Bruce Kidd, as it competes against a growing trend to separate politics from sport.

The historic Gleneagles Agreement signed by the Commonwealth heads of govern­ment in 1977 stands out as a key milestone in the association’s efforts to utilise sport as a tool to advance the values of democ­racy, development and opportunities for all. When the agreement was signed, the idea that sport could make a contribution to pro­moting these values was fledgling; howev­er, 35 years later the concept is embedded across the Commonwealth, most noticeably in efforts referred to as ‘Sport for Develop­ment and Peace’ (SDP).

While Gleneagles focused on competi­tions in the international arena, in the mod­ern Commonwealth, community-based ac­tivities have become a key site for sport’s contribution to promoting the association’s key values. There are many examples of initiatives – inside and outside the Com­monwealth – embodying this concept. The Special Olympics movement explicitly uses sports-based programmes to give peo­ple with a disability the opportunity to par­ticipate in community activities. Numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across the Commonwealth, such as Magic Bus in India, Sports Coaches Outreach in Southern Africa and Cricket for Change in the UK, use sport as a tool to engage and empower marginalised young people. Gov­ernments are also involved. In Australia, the Play by the Rules and Human Rights are Aussie Rules projects address discrimina­tion, and the Indian government’s PYKKA (Panchayat Yuva Krida Aur Khel Abhiyan) scheme promotes sport in rural areas.

SDP programmes use the popularity of sport, and the platform provided through en­gaging communities in sporting activity, to contribute to development and human rights issues. Many of the key actors in SDP trace their involvement to the end of apartheid in South Africa and the Gleneagles Agreement. As apartheid was being dismantled, the new heads of sport in South Africa, along with many of their allies in frontline states, under­took to rebuild and democratise their sports systems. To support these efforts, they re­quested that their key international partners incorporate sport into their international co­operation programmes.

The development challenges faced at this time demanded that sport and development not take place in isolation, and increasing­ly both government and non-government stakeholders came up with innovative strat­egies aimed at maximising sport’s contri­bution to wider human rights and develop­ment issues. Early pioneers in the SDP field included countries from Sub-Saharan Af­rica, as well Australia, Canada and the UK; 20 years later it is truly a global movement.

A key component of the Gleneagles Agreement was leveraging the symbolism attached to competing in high-profile in­ternational sport. However, in the period since the agreement, sport’s involvement with issues related to the Commonwealth’s core values has changed. In many forums, international sport stakeholders have shied away from tackling contentious issues, cit­ing a need to keep sport and politics sepa­rate. In this space, the symbolism of Glene­agles has been replaced by the pragmatism of community-based programming.

Since sport was first recognised as hav­ing an important role to play in develop­ment programmes, many of the claims made about its contribution have been challenged. The idea that sport-based ini­tiatives could succeed where political and development actors have failed has raised some scepticism. But in truth, the SDP field has matured over the years, and much of the rhetoric that once categorised it has become more measured. The discourse around the field has sharpened, focusing SDP efforts on addressing development challenges, and not on solving them. Successful SDP programmes are carefully measured and closely monitored, and are increasingly co­ordinated with other development efforts.

Encouragingly, key actors in other sec­tors – including health, education and justice departments – have recognised the potential of sport-based approaches. New Zealand’s Green Prescription initiative is one exam­ple. Health professionals prescribe sport and physical activity to individuals showing signs of non-communicable diseases. In Mo­zambique, the education ministry is working with UNICEF to establish sport in schools as a tool to promote child-friendly environ­ments, while the UK’s Positive Futures pro­gramme is an example of sport being utilised within crime-prevention strategies.

In spite of these examples of good prac­tice, sport-based approaches are still not being significantly embedded in relevant policy frameworks. This represents an area of significant potential, albeit somewhat tempered by calls for SDP to provide more substantial evidence of impact – calls now being taken seriously by SDP actors deter­mined to maximise sport’s contribution.

Since the Gleneagles Agreement, Com­monwealth sport has been inextricably linked to efforts to promote democracy, de­velopment and opportunities for all. In this time, the appetite for international sport to take a stand on political issues might have waned, and its separation from politics called for, but the SDP field has experienced considerable community-level growth, and the legacy of Gleneagles remains evi­dent in these programmes. The Common­wealth has been at the centre of the growth of the SDP field, and the endorsement by its current leaders for intensified efforts to strengthen SDP initiatives signals a com­mitment to maintaining the link between Commonwealth sport and the values that draw together this union of nations.

About the author:

Oliver Dudfield is Commonwealth Secretariat Sports Adviser and Bruce Kidd is Chair of the Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport


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