Sport for development: passing fad or serious development?
The Australian Government recently launched its new Sports Diplomacy Strategy. In launching the strategy, Foreign Minister Marise Payne emphasised the intent to use “the universal language of sport” to “engage our neighbours… advance Australia’s national interests… build and extend Australia’s influence in the region… project Australia’s values… and serve as a bridge between peoples”.
The idea of using sport to project influence, ease tensions and strengthen cooperation between nations has been around for centuries. But it is experiencing greater prominence with governments, including Australia, aiming to capitalise on the soft power benefits of sport.
Momentum for sports diplomacy and sport for development has also come from sporting federations and global sporting tournaments that are increasingly interested in the role of sport in addressing social problems. For their part, international development NGOs and UN agencies have been quick to take up the profile-raising and fundraising opportunities, and have established numerous social cause partnerships and programs with sporting federations and their global tournaments. This is the case for ChildFund, which has a formal partnership with World Rugby, based around the successful implementation of ChildFund Pass It Back – a rugby for development program operating across Southeast Asia.
But are the claims and promises of sports diplomacy and the separate but related field of sport for development supported by the evidence? The Australian Sports Diplomacy Strategy has within it the Australian Sports Partnership Program which aims “to find innovative ways to tackle social issues”. Is this realistic or an excuse to indulge Australians’ love of sport? And is to wise to cosy-up to sporting organisations? Sport may be a force for good but it can also perpetuate negative attitudes and behaviour. Some of the worst examples of corruption, thuggishness, ultra-nationalism, sexism and racism are found in sport – on and off the field. …read more