How Sport Changes Lives and Uplifts Communities
If you are South African, you almost certainly remember the 1995 Rugby World Cup final. I, personally, can recall exactly where I was and what I was doing when Joel Stransky scored that magnificent winning drop goal in extra time. It was a momentous event, and not just for rugby fans, but for the country as a whole.
Why? Because it was the first time in decades, centuries even, that South Africans were united in victory. The legendary Nelson Mandela recognised the potential of the game to unify the nation after years of segregation under apartheid rule, and he successfully used it as an opportunity to bridge divides and cultivate trust, cross-cultural understanding and solidarity.
The transformative power of sport, as illustrated by this at-home example, is what inspired the UN General Assembly to establish an International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, which takes place annually on 6 April (this Saturday). This occasion is meant to celebrate and encourage consideration of the many social and psychological benefits of competitive physical activity and play. Speaking on this day several years ago, Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), summarised the humanitarian value of sport as such:
“Sport is about both self-effort and collective effort, individual activity and social practice; it relies upon the concepts of respect, understanding, integration and dialogue, and it contributes to the development and fulfilment of individuals regardless of age, gender, origins, beliefs and opinions. That is why sport is a unique forum for action and reflection to transform our societies.”
The Power of Sport Values
Anyone who’s ever played a sport, especially a team-focused one, will be familiar with the sense of purpose and belonging it delivers. Sport builds community, encourages camaraderie, empowers disadvantaged groups, boosts confidence and self-esteem, gives players goals and dreams, keeps youth positively engaged and gives kids access to great role models.
Importantly, it also promotes certain values that can serve as foundations for significant social change, putting the emphasis on the importance of teamwork, fair play, self-discipline, perseverance, respect, harmony and equality.
An inspiring photo book by UNESCO titled The Power of Sport Values depicts the benefits of the basic principles taught through sport visually. It features moving images of young children and adults brought together and buoyed up by the joys of a game. It also puts the spotlight on several of the many programmes and initiatives out there that are currently using physical activity as a gateway to social development and inclusion.
There is, for instance, Slum Soccer, an organisation that uses football to improve the lives of street dwellers in India by teaching them life skills and connecting them to education and a support system. As the NGO’s website says:
“All we ask them to do is kick a ball. That simple act is therapeutic in itself.”
Then there’s also Terre des Hommes, which works in South Sudan (and many other places) to rehabilitate children impacted by the civil war through recreational activities; the Tanzania Street Children Sports Academy, which uses soccer to give vulnerable youth a sense of identity and community; and Promo Jeune Basket (PJB), a youth-focused grassroots organisation based in the Democratic Republic of Congo that teaches important values and improves access to education through basketball.
Patrick Mwamba is one of the many beneficiaries of the latter programme and living proof of how sport changes lives. This gifted player first got involved with the PJB Academy when he was 12 years old and is now playing for the Arlington Mavericks team in Texas while studying business management. Just imagine the pride that he instils back home and the many children he inspires.
Look closer to home and you’ll find several initiatives that harness the power of sport in South Africa, too. Waves For Change (W4C), for instance, does amazing work in local at-risk communities by running surf therapy sessions to engage and assist young people. You only have to spend a few hours in Muizenberg watching the W4C kids squeal with delight as they learn to navigate waves to recognise the impact that this programme is having on our future leaders.
With so many options out there, it’s a good time to get involved in sport-for-upliftment initiatives and it’s a great way to celebrate the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. The best part is, through this medium, community work never feels like…well…work. It’s all fun and games, with the potential for real impact.
Keen to tap into the power of sport to change lives? Sign up with Brownie Points to learn more about relevant projects and programmes that need support.
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