Beyond the field: the role of sport in development and peace

Carl Konadu

With the upcoming Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow in 2014, a seminar was held in the city to discuss the power of sport and its evolution from an extracurricular activity to an effective tool for driving development and tackling the problem of youth unemployment across the globe.

On 9-11 November 2012, the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council (CYEC) held a UK-wide seminar in central Glasgow on the potential of sport for aiding peace and development (SDP). Entitled ‘Games Without Frontiers’, the event was in partnership with Glasgow City Council, supported by the Commonwealth Secretariat (Sports Development-Youth Affairs Division) and funded by the British Council’s Youth in Action programme.

The aim of the seminar was to explore the contribution of sport as a tool for intercultural dialogue. The role of SDP in tackling development issues has increased significantly over the past two decades, and with the introduction of the UN’s Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group, it is clear that international organisations are taking an active step forward in this emerging field.

The two-day seminar began with an overview and insight into the definition of intercultural dialogue from Samir Sharma from Glasgow City Council’s education department. During an interactive session, in which workshops, case study presentations and discussion groups were used, participants explored the definition of culture, how young people view themselves culturally and how SDP can further its role in improving the lives of young people. Participants came up with recommendations on best practice when using SDP, as well as some modifications that need to be made to sport in order for it to be a more effective tool within social development.

Following on from Samir Sharma’s address was an introduction to SDP from Oliver Dudfield, the SDP adviser for the Youth Affairs Division at the Commonwealth Secretariat. This presentation gave participants an insight into the theoretical approach of SDP, highlighting key principles such as sustained and leveraged participation, fully accessible sports, shared values and a commitment to promoting development, democracy and diversity.

In order to give participants an overview of how SDP works practically on a local, regional and national level, three organisations presented case studies. A&M Training, a Glasgow-based organisation, presented their ‘Operation Reclaim’ programme. This local project focuses on diversionary activities such as dance and football in nine sites around the city with vulnerable and at-risk young people aged 6-25.

Football 4 Peace gave a presentation on their activity-based community relation and reconciliation initiative. This sports-based scheme operates in Israel and its neighbouring countries as well as in Northern Ireland.

Finally, there was the UK Sport’s IDEALS project, a high quality, progressive and coordinated sports leadership development programme for young people aged 20-35 between the UK and partner countries.

“I have a far greater understanding of the limitations that sport faces and that theory is not always possible, but we must not let this deter us.” – Games Without Frontiers participant, 2012

The aim of the seminar was not only to provide organisations with a platform for sharing ideas and best practice, but also to encourage partnerships in the future to allow them to work together, therefore time was dedicated to a networking and ideas marketplace. Participants brought resources on behalf of their organisation to interact with others and promote the work they do.

Throughout the seminar there was a focus on the specific issues young people face through culture and development, and more significantly, how SDP can be used to tackle these. However, participants also highlighted that sport is not inherently positive, and as a result modifications have to be made in order for it to be a highly effective tool for development.

Participants believed that organisations in the SDP sector need to work together more effectively in order to better tackle development issues. “There needs to be commonality and motivation for organisations in sport for peace and development to make partnerships for change,” said one participant.

A thematic world café focused on three main issues: gender inequality, young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) and community conflict. The issue of the NEET young identified that “transitions from school to employment, training and further education need further development”. Sport can act as a route for young people to develop soft skills in order to build them up for employment: for example, volunteering at a local sports club, coaching children or even working in admin at a SDP NGO office.

As a result of the seminar, a position paper will be written and used to lobby relevant institutions and organisations in the SDP sector regarding improvements and changes that need to be made. The paper will also act as a referencing tool for organisations that want to incorporate sport into their work.

With the ethos of the 2014 Commonwealth Games being ‘Mental, Physical and Exceptional’, the potential for sport to play a part in the development of young people is evident. In a climate where young people are faced with limited job opportunities and misguided representation from the media, it is important to utilise creative avenues such as sport and its ability to provide participants with soft skills such as, teamwork, discipline, determination and leadership qualities.

About the author:

Carl Konadu works at the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council


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