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  • Norman Brook

Engaging Communities in Sports Development

Sport and Development

Sport and Development

Sports Development is a widely used term that can mean the development of sport for sport’s sake or the use of sport as tool for community development addressing social issues such as community regeneration, health, crime and  inclusion, writes Norman Brook.

The use of sport as a tool that can be used to address social issues is also evident in international development where Sport and Development has become an important tool in helping to achieve development objectives in particular the Millenium Goals.

Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary General, has stated “Sport is increasingly recognized as an important tool in helping the United Nations achieve its objectives, in particular the Millennium Development Goals. By including sport in development and peace programmes in a more systematic way, the United nations can make full use of this cost-efficient tool to help us create a better world.”

Simon Kirkland is a fomer CEO of a National Governing Body of Sport in the UK who has been running a successful sports consultancy business for several years.  In the Sports Structures newsletter, Simon raises an important question for those using  sport as a development tool . “I have a growing concern that in the need to drive for targets we disregard the most vulnerable in society.  In a number of areas as organisations strive for an increase in the number participating I think it will lead to those that are already taking part just taking part more often and those that are hard to engage with will be left with limited options.”

The question Simon raised was also asked of me today by Debbie Lye, Head of International Development at UK Sport, who was enquiring how a proposed sport and development initiative would increase opportunities for young people to participate in and learn through sport as opposed to simply providing for those already engaged.

Simon Kirkland

Simon points out that “programmes designed for disadvantaged communities should be about engaging the whole of that community and not focused on people coming in and working within those communities. The effective use of resources is critical to meeting the needs of disadvantaged communities – they are not hard to reach – however sport continues to be reluctant to work in a sustainable way with communities. Sport is a very powerful tool for community regeneration and should be used to good effect.”

This issue about engaging with the local community and creating real and sustainable development is an issue that has been of concern to me as I come ino contact with more sport and development programmes here in Africa.  My experience suggests that a great many initiatives are focused around a “delivery team” and that a key driver of programmes is the number of young people engaged. When a programme is sponsored by commercial company it is understandable that numbers engaged would be a key metric. 

Many of the sport and development initiatives are really good at engaging young people from disadvantaged communities but often that engagement is for a limited period of time.  Whilst it is great to see young people enjoying sports activities and proudly wearing their event tee-shirts, it can also be  frustrating nothing sustainable is left in place as a result of an intervention.  Often there is limited local community development, no local sports leaders or coaches trained , no one empowered to continue the activity when the initiative moves on to its next destination.

The issue identified by Simon Kirkland is applicable all community based sports development initiatives both in developed and developing nations.

As the Chinese proverb says ….

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Many organisations involved in sport fail to understand the concept of sports development.  Sports development officers and teams are often  involved in delivering activity rather than facilitating sustainable development.  Activity that only exists because it is being delivered by the sports development team.  Activity that would cease if the team was withdrawn or moved on.  If activities adnd programmes can not be sustained by local communities there quite simply has not been any development of sport.

Where sport is used as a tool to pursue a wider social development agenda the question of sustainability also needs to be raised.  If sport can be a successful vehicle to deliver community development it needs to become part of that community’s social fabric.

Whether sports development, or community development, we need to ask whether an initiative will lead to sustainable sports development?  When the initiative is complete will some new and sustainable sports activity exist.  Will we have provided added value and empowered a local community to engage in sport? Will there be new people playing, organising, administering and coaching sport in that community?

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