Articles & Publications
The Sport for Development and Peace Sector
Since the early 1990s, we have witnessed the emergence and rapid growth of the “Sport for Development and Peace” (SDP) sector. SDP is mainly comprised of programmes that are run by NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and which use sport as an interventionist tool to promote different types of social development and peaceful social relations across the world.
There are now thousands of these initiatives across the world, varying greatly in scale, duration and mission. While being implemented in both the global North and South, SDP programmes tend to be sited in developing regions and in war-torn or post-conflict settings. The vast majority of programmes are targeted at young people, especially in the global South where youth tend to be in the majority across national populations. These young people are identified as marginalised or “at risk” in some way.
The social goals of these programmes include: poverty reduction; the education of young people; health promotion and education such as in disease prevention; women’s empowerment; the social inclusion of people with disabilities; developing leadership skills and employability; tackling urban crime and violence; and, peace-building, rehabilitation and reconstruction in postconflict contexts.
A substantial volume of academic research has been undertaken into the SDP sector since the late 1990s. My own work has been conducted over more than fifteen years. This presentation draws on fieldwork and interview research undertaken in the Balkans, the Middle East, South Asia, and southern Africa, as well as in Germany, Switzerland, and the UK.
The paper is divided into four main parts. First, I put forward some illustra- tive SDP activities and programmes. Second, I set out four main categories of SDP organisation and consider aspects of their interrelations. Third, I outline the attractions of sports for these different agencies. Fourth, I reflect critically on the need to keep in mind sport’s complex historical and socio-political relation- ships to violence, conflict and peace.
SDP programmes – some examples
It is useful to begin by providing some illustrations of the different types of SDP work that is undertaken. Some examples might include:
– The UNDP Match Against Poverty, which is regularly contested by the world’s leading football players, to raise money for those in absolute poverty, and to promote public awareness of the need to eradicate world poverty.
– The “Segundo Tempo” programme in Brazil, which promotes schooling among hundreds of thousands of poor young people through a mixture of after-hours sport, free meals, and additional school time.
– The Grassroots Soccer programme in Zimbabwe which promotes HIV/AIDS education among young people.
– The Nowspar NGO in Zambia which uses football to promote educational participation, empowerment, and the tackling of abuse among women.
– Play International and Open Fun Football Schools, which run peacepromoting sport programmes in Kosovo and in the wider Balkans region.
Clearly, these initiatives are focused on meeting key development and humanitarian needs. These programmes have tended to be heavily influenced by the United Nations, through the UN’s “Millennium Development Goals” which ran until 2015, and the current Sustainable Development Goals which run until 2030.
In the global North, SDP programmes might include, for example:
– The UK NGO “Street League” which uses football as an intervention ist tool to assist young people, particularly those involved in criminal activity, into employment, education or training.
– The “Midnight Basketball” initiative in the United States, founded in the late 1980s, using sport to draw young people away from criminal activity, particularly in inner-city African-American neighbourhoods.
In North America, these programmes are often presented as part of the Positive Youth Development (PYD) movement.
Thus, the SDP sector features initiatives and programmes that have a diverse array of missions and objectives, and these in turn are underpinned by very different kinds of agency and institution, as I now explain.
SDP agencies and institutions: four categories
SDP institutions and agencies vary substantially in their scale, location, objectives, policies, ideologies and strategies. We may differentiate these agencies into four broad categories.
i) Non-governmental, non-profit organisations which facilitate and/or implement SDP programmes, and come in many shapes and sizes. International NGOs include Right to Play, streetfootballworld, Football Against Racism in Europe, and Open Fun Football Schools. Other, more established development NGOs, such as Care and ActionAid, have used sport to promote their interests and advocacy agendas. At local and national level, we find grassroots NGOs, such as the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka, which are particularly well placed to implement SDP programmes. We might add sport clubs that are member-owned, such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, which contribute to SDP programmes and organisation.
ii) Intergovernmental and governmental organisations which are particularly active in facilitating and overseeing SDP campaigns and programmes, while also contributing to implementation. The United Nations has played a key role here, and had its own SDP office (the UNOSDP), which closed recently. Some international development departments and agencies have been very active, especially those linked to Nordic nations, such as NORAD (Norway). National and international sport governing bodies such as the IOC fit here as they function largely as governmental institutions. Crucially, the IOC has agreed to take on the UN’s role here.
iii) Private sector organisations which engage with the SDP sector mainly through voluntary initiatives that are themed around corporate social responsibility and principles of self-regulation within the marketplace. For example, Vodaphone, Daimler, and Mercedes-Benz are partners of Laureus, which convenes glitzy annual sports awards, and houses a SDP foundation. Privately-owned sport clubs also fit here.
iv) We might add radical NGOs and social movements which have more politicized approaches towards social development and are more fo- cused on promoting social justice and human/civil rights. Invariably, this category of SDP agency tends to come into conflict with corporations, intergovernmental organisations, and some NGOs – as illustrated by anti-Nike campaigns, and protests against the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Here, we might add major sport personalities. They can play a key role in endorsing programmes and agencies, and in some cases establishing their own foundations.
Most SDP programmes involve significant partnership work between these first three categories: NGOs, (inter)governmental agencies, sport governing bodies and institutions, and TNCs. These agencies are also heavily involved in SDP conferences and policy development. Conversely, more radical NGOs, campaign groups and social movements have tended to have relatively restricted roles or to have been absent from these networks and events, with the result that these forces have been rather marginalised within the SDP sector.
Development and peace initiatives: the attractions of sport
It is useful to set out what the strengths of sport might be for those institutions that are seeking to undertake development and peace work. These perceived benefits or attractions may be summarised as follows:
– Sports are played worldwide and are familiar or easily taught to peoples in most settings. Sports thus provide for immediate contacts with young people.
– Sports are already employed in schools and wider social settings as an educational tool.
– Sports are understood as carrying social psychological benefits for participants, by facilitating positive and enjoyable self-expression, personal and interpersonal creativity, and team-building and group solidarity.
– Sports may enable new social contacts and relationships to be established between different groups within play-focused contexts.
– Sports may promote the wider socialisation and education of young people into competitive, rule-governed behaviour.
– Sports may facilitate the practical making and enforcing of rules, and thus promote stronger understanding and reproduction of rule- governed behaviour.
– Sports may engage prominent individuals and celebrities, who are able to draw the attention of wider publics.
– Sport’s official ideologies and discourses tend to have strong universalist messages.
SDP programmes centred on peace-building tend to view sport as offering particular positive socio-cultural and political characteristics which may be uti- lised in contexts where the targeted user groups have been caught up in violent conflicts. These perceived benefits may be summarised as follows:
– Sports are understood as offering particularly effective meeting spaces for “breaking the ice” between those who have been in conflict. Sports may provide one of the first post-war contact points, while also enabling third parties to be involved, for example in the role of mediator (referee, umpire).
– Sports may provide a playful, competitive, rule-governed context for relations to be built with the Other. A confirmed set of rules in sport, which is agreed upon by the participants and which underpins their interaction, is particularly important for facilitating play and, more seriously, for offering a basis for future, rule-governed interaction off the field of play. Participants may benefit by being responsible for making and enforcing rules, by entering into dialogue and negotiation.
– In turn, sport-based interventions may help to routinize forms of contact and interaction with former enemies, and to challenge the demonization of the absent or imagined Other.
– Sports are particularly effective in reaching and engaging with the next generation of potential combatants, while encouraging older generations to allow young people to take ownership of future relationships with peers on “the other side”.
– Sports may be used to resocialise people who have been traumatised, and physically and/or emotionally damaged through their involvement in war.
– Sports may assist the rehabilitation of those injured by war, for example landmine victims who have lost limbs or suffered other serious injuries.
– Sports may contribute more broadly to the reconstruction of societies within the post-war context.
– The universalist messages within sports typically convey support for internationalism and peaceful relations between competitors.
This summarises the perceived benefits of sport for different development and peace initiatives and agencies. However, to develop an adequate understanding of sport’s social impacts and possibilities, we need to recognise the complex and highly uneven historical and socio-political relationships of sport to development and peace. This is perhaps best demonstrated through a brief examination of sport’s nexus to processes of peace, conflict and subjugation.
Sport, peace and violence: a complex history
If we turn to examine the positive side of sport’s historical association with peace and development, one focus may fall on the Olympic Games. In Ancient Greece, the Olympic Truce was established as early as the 9th century BC, with the aim of suspending military conflicts and enabling athletes and spectators safe passage to the original Olympic games. The Olympic Truce was subsequently revived by IOC, and since 1993, via resolution 48/11, the Truce has been supported by the United Nations prior to each Olympic Games. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the inspirational figure for the modern Olympics, believed that the competition would promote internationalism by bringing different nations and peoples into contact. Further historical illustrations of peace-building through sport might include the story of the 1914 Christmas Truce between British and German soldiers, when hostilities were suspended, and some reports indicated that the soldiers met in no-man’s-land to exchange greetings, to sing songs, and to play football.
On the other hand, we need also to recognise the long-running associations between sport, warfare and violent conflicts. We might consider here the 100hour “Football War” between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, following an international football fixture, which was understood to have claimed up to 3,000 lives. The 1990s Yugoslav civil war was preceded by widespread rioting among football fans, players and police at a fixture between Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade in 1990. Many of the supporter movements were subsequently transformed into paramilitary units during the civil war. More broadly, we might cite the long-standing presence of many hooligan subcultures, or outbreaks of hooliganism and violence at football fixtures at both national and club levels, that have occurred almost throughout the history of the modern game.
Overall, sport’s relationship to peace-building and conflict resolution is highly uneven. Any analysis of the SDP sector should avoid slipping into “sport evangelism”, wherein sport is assumed to be inherently good and peaceful. We need to recognise the crucial role of social context in determining sport’s relationship to development and peace. The social context shapes the diverse meanings and usages to which sport is put. It underpins the ways in which sport, as a cultural form, and as a force for diverse kinds of social solidarity, is embedded within the wider social order. The context itself is shaped by matrices of power relations between elites and wider publics.
With those points in mind regarding the historical and social context, we may turn to consider some of the distinctive features that are evidenced in the more progressive SDP programmes.
Progressive SDP programmes
SDP programmes that have the most progressive social qualities and impacts tend to have several key features. The discussion here applies most to the global South but is also relevant to the global North.
First, SDP programmes must be committed to the empowerment of their user communities, to take ownership of SDP initiatives. SDP programmes are assisted if they are strongly embedded within the host community, and thus able to engage fully with local publics in developing this work. Grassroots NGOs may conduct this quality of work, notably by enabling local communities to take ownership of programmes.
Second, sustainability is critical to programme success. Sustainability is assisted by developing finances, and training volunteers and officials. There also needs to be a post-programme strategy, for continuing this work without NGO or other support.
Third, the SDP programme needs to be located within the wider social, political and cultural context. For example, peace-building programmes are most likely to succeed when there is a positive environment for this work, particularly by engaging with relevant stakeholders in sport.
Fourth, diverse “monitoring and evaluation” techniques may be used to assess the impacts of programmes. This means using both quantitative and qualitative techniques for measuring impact.
Finally, programmes should engage fully with different development stakeholders. This includes large development charities, and also campaign groups and critical NGOs, which can help to deepen relationships with the local community.
Finally, I’d like to conclude by very briefly touching upon the potential for Paralympians to be lifestyle role models.
There are many agencies involved in this work, seeking to promote diverse forms of development through sport with young people across the world. Most programmes involve substantial cross-agency collaboration. Crucially, SDP programmes and agencies need to be focused on the empowerment of local communities, particularly by listening to their development needs and aspirations.
A final point relates to the global leadership of the SDP sector in future years. Since the closure of the UN’s SDP office, there has been a significant leadership gap. There is a strong expectation that the IOC will step in to fill the gap, by working with the UN to promote sport’s global role.
This lecture draws heavily on a paper by the author published in the Brown Journal of World Affairs.
Coalter, F.: Sport for development: What game are we playing? Routledge London, 2013.
Darnell, S.: Sport for development and peace: A critical sociology, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012.
Dudfield, O. (ed.): Strengthening Sport for Development and Peace, London, 2014 Commonwealth Secretariat/CABOS.
Giulianotti, R.: “The Sport, Development and Peace Sector: A Model of Four Social Policy Domains”, Journal of Social Policy, 40, 2011a, 757-776.
Schulenkorf, N., & Adair, D. (eds.): Global sport-for-development: Critical perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014.
United Nations (UN): Contribution of Sport to the Millennium Development Goals, New York: United Nations, 2010.
Giulianotti Richard, "The IOC Commission for Olympic Education and its vision", in:K. Georgiadis (ed.), Challenges an Olympic Athlete faces as a Role Model, 58th International Session for Young Participants (Ancient Olympia,16-30/6/2018), International Olympic Academy, Athens, 2019, pp.134-142.