Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Role of Sport in Peace-building

The contribution sport can make towards peace-building efforts has generally been considered at the grassroots and nation state levels. At the grassroots or community level, sport can be seen to provide a useful way of creating an environment in which people can come together to: work towards the same goal, show respect for others and share space and equipment. All these aspects are crucial to peace-building processes and are exemplified in findings from a Peace Players International programme.

The programme ‘bridging divides’ in South Africa uses basketball to bring children and communities together. An assessment of the programme shows that the majority of participants expressed fewer racial stereotypes and less racism compared to children who were not part of the programme. Many participants were in favour of racial integration and further inter-racial socialisation than other children.  A study on the role of sport in fostering social integration among different ethnic groups in South African schools showed that several factors contributed to the use of sport being successful in bringing about exchange and building relationships between different groups, including sport’s non-verbal means of communication; sport as a means to engage in collective experience and establish direct physical contact; and sport’s ability to transcend class divisions.

The Open Fun Football Schools
The Open Fun Football schools were initiated in Bosnia-Herzegovina, using grassroots football as a means to provide a site for interaction and to build relationships between young people and coaches.  Since then, the initiative has expanded to being a reconciliation tool to encourage understanding and tolerance in FYR of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, Moldova, Georgia and various other countries in the Balkans, the Caucasus and in the Middle East.  The Open Fun Football Schools implemented in eastern Europe and the Middle East organised street events for the wider community, which have sometimes acted as the first significant post-war contact between communities that were formerly close but are now deeply hostile to one another.

Sport and National Identity
The United Nations Report on the International Year of Sport and Physical Education 2005 highlights the benefits that sport can bring in building national identity, especially at the level of elite sport.  Sport can provide a positive image of the nation to the international community. Studies on specific cases have shown that sport, especially football, can positively contribute to strengthening national pride and forming a cohesive national identity.  For example, a study on the case of football in Liberia shows that football is considered ‘a “neutral” pursuit – a common cultural property unspoiled by war’. During the civil conflict, football tournaments were considered the only occasions that produced a sense of national unity. On the other hand, sport can produce nationalist expressions that are detrimental to peace. For example, the 1956 Olympic water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union that took place after the Soviet invasion of Budapest led to violent clashes between the athletes. In addition, many scholars associate the importing of modern sport into former colonies as an explicit strategy of imperialism and conquest. In this sense, it is necessary to consider both the potential dangers and benefits of sport in forming national identity.

Sport and health
•      Among many of the least active and least healthy groups, the promotion of a more active lifestyle may be a more useful strategy than only offering traditional sports. 
•      The frequency of activity required to achieve and sustain physical health benefits is difficult for many to achieve.
·                The traditional product-led ‘sports development’ approach needs reviewed, with a more
needs-based approach based on an understanding of personal and social circumstances.
·                Some of the greatest gains from activity programmes relate to psychological health and increased feelings of well-being.
·                Factors underpinning the success of activity provision have included, appropriate and convenient local facilities, recognising the importance of friendship groups, providing reassurance that 'people just like them' are able to participate, recognising that if the activity has some intrinsic value it may be more appealing and ensure adherence.
·                There was a general absence of male participants in physical activity initiatives.

Sport and crime
·                Large scale diversionary projects tend to have vague rationales, overly-ambitious objectives and a limited understanding of the variety and complexity of the causes of criminality. Short-term funding ensures that projects often do not last long enough to achieve any meaningful impact
·                Evidence suggests that traditional facility-based programmes have a limited impact. Outreach, bottom-up, approaches, credible leadership, and non-traditional, local, provision appear to have the best chance of success with the most marginal at-risk groups.
·                 Sport is most effective when combined with programmes addressing wider personal and social development.

Sport, young people and education
·                      Research on possible causal relationships between physical activity and academic performance is inconclusive.  The salience of sport can be used to attract under-achieving pupils to educational programmes (although outcomes depend on the quality of the learning environment).
·                      There are mutually beneficial opportunities to involve professional football (and other) clubs in the development of integrated sport/education programmes.

 Sport, unemployment and regeneration
·                      There is little research on the regenerative potential of investment in sport, or the long-term benefits to local communities of sports-led investment strategies.
·          Although training opportunities for basic sports leadership awards contribute to the development of self-esteem and self-confidence, without additional qualifications their vocational value is limited.
·                      Because sessional work is the main employment opportunity for most sports coaches, there must be some doubt about such an employment strategy.
·             The value of sports-orientated employment programmes may lie less in their directly vocational effectiveness, but in their appeal to certain groups of long-term unemployed and their reduction of social exclusion through the development of ‘employment networks’.
·                      The personal and educational development needs of many long-term unemployed on sports-orientated employment schemes require parallel supporting programmes.

Community development and volunteering in sport
·                      Because of its high social and economic value, volunteering in sport offers possibilities for the development of a sense of self-esteem and social purpose.
·                      Because of short-term funding and philosophies of ‘empowerment’ and ‘ownership’ developing volunteers is a priority for many initiatives.
·                      Barriers to the development of volunteers include resistance to ‘top down’ initiatives, ‘initiative fatigue’ and widespread scepticism about agencies’ motives, a lack of confidence often associated with long term unemployment and the cost and difficulty of some leadership and coaching awards.
·                      ‘Bottom-up’ approaches, which build on and assist existing (or emerging) programmes provide a greater sense of involvement and ownership. Where sports projects provide a contribution to wider aspects of the community they are more likely to be sustainable.
·                      There is a need for a more systematic approach to the recruitment, training and support of volunteers, based on an appreciation of the personal and professional development needs of potential recruits from the long-term unemployed.
·                      It is unrealistic to expect all such programmes to be self-sustaining. Evidence suggests that there is a need for ongoing support from skilled professional workers.

Sport and minority ethnic groups
·                      There is limited systematic information about minority ethnic groups and participation in sport and physical activity in Scotland.
·                      Although there are some barriers to participation, there are specific issues relating to cultural/religious beliefs and perceived racist attitudes..
·                      Several factors reduce the opportunities for casual participation, reduce the variety of sports which can be accessed and limit facility access for clubs at premium times.
·                      There is a lack of understanding of inter- and intra-minority group differences and this is often compounded by 'ghettoising' policy and practice. The dangers of 'false universalism' must be recognised and awareness training provided at all levels.
·                      ‘Bottom-up' initiatives which build on traditions, seek to address issues wider than sport and use workers recruited from the relevant communities are those most likely to succeed.
·                      There is a need for greater clarity about the desired outcomes for such provision and these should be agreed in consultation with the relevant communities.

The environmental value of sports
·                      Sports facilities can make an important contribution to the physical infrastructure of communities, providing a social focus for a community and affecting people's perception of their neighbourhood.
·                      The maintenance of under-used community facilities and wider environmental recreation-related improvements have a significant role to play in the development of the quality of life in communities.

Source:  International Sport and Development Organisation www.sportanddev.org

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