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Action sports for development

Copyrights: Adam Horton,

Action sports for development

Why has there been an increase in sports like skateboarding and surfing in development projects?

Traditionally, sports like football, rugby, cricket and basketball have been used in sport and development programmes. They are appealing as they already have a global fan base, making it easier to engage harder to reach populations. More recently, there has been a rise in the use of ‘action sports’, which are defined by greater risk in participation. But what makes them attractive to use in a development programme?

Sports like football and rugby have been around for over a century, and for much of that they have been predominantly played and watched by men. This can make it harder for girls and women from more traditional societies to engage. They may feel that these sports are not for women, or be told that by their family and social network. Similarly, sports like cricket may have negative associations with colonialism. It was used by the British Empire to ‘civilise’ native populations, and is still played mainly in Commonwealth nations. While these sports have many qualities that make them ideal for development programmes (teamwork, resilience, commitment etc.), the negative images portrayed through the professional game can be a turn off for organisations and participants.

Examples and benefits of active sports

Skateboarding is relatively new. Its origins date back to the 1940s and for much of the 20th century it remained a recreational activity for young people. It is only since the 1980s that there has been professionalism attached to the sport, and female skateboarders have been as much a part of its development as men. In addition, skateboarding has no associated cultural or gender biases; instead, there is a mutual respect between all participants. In 2020, skateboarding will become an Olympic sport for the first time. The funding opportunities and demand for skate parks will surely increase with this exposure.

At the mention of surfing, images of dreadlocked-white-Australian-males might come to mind. This stereotype is not entirely based on myths, but does this make it a perfect sport for development? For young girls, taking part in surfing can be extremely empowering. Participating as an equal can help to break down barriers of inequality. It teaches girls that there should be no limits to what they can achieve, and teaches boys about respect and equality.

These are examples of how action sports are used: does this open the door for future programmes? One hurdle is the cost of equipment and the building of skate parks. Expenses are high compared to football, rugby or cricket. Whether it is skateboarding, surfing, climbing or sailing, there needs to be funding for projects to grow and reach larger audiences.

With a unique blend of innovation and freedom, action sports can be a valuable addition to the sport and development sector – just remember to play safe!


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Monday, December 19, 2016 - 14:34