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Board games and sport for development: A post-COVID-19 perspective

Men playing board games
Copyrights: John Mawer/Flickr (Photo)

Board games and sport for development: A post-COVID-19 perspective

Taking into account intellectual games beside physical activities while designing sport and development projects may be more impactful than one may think.

In a Covid-19 context characterised by the primacy of social distancing and hygiene rules on one hand, and on the other hand by the uncertainty of the future, various organisations and institutions are striving to challenge the crisis and to forecast what could happen in the forthcoming months and years. It may be the case for sport and development organisations which have been very active in the past decades in different regions of the world and whose works have benefited many people from diverse social and cultural backgrounds.

If those organisations through their multiple activities and projects have demonstrated the fundamental role played by sport in the process of integration and socialisation for instance and in focussing more on physical activities, the present state of affairs compel all the stakeholders to envision other perspectives through which sport can continue to foster the development of individuals and of societies at large.

Most of the time, sport is conceived either as a physical exercise (jogging for example) or as a structured, goal-oriented and competitive form of play (basketball or athletics for example). The intellectual and non-physical aspect of sport is often undermined. Yet, scientific studies have demonstrated all the advantages of “cerebral training” through board games (chess, scrabble, checkers, Othello, Go, etc.). Before attempting to have a social impact, the first feature of sport participation is to promote good health and far from what one can imagine, board games have the capacities to encompass both aspects, independently of the age of participants.

First of all, board game playing may be a form of stress management, as the fight-or-flight response is regulated safely within the sophisticated structures of match-type games. It is worth mentioning here that social change is a process, sometimes a slow process and the first place where this change may be observable is within the families. Unfortunately, stress and anger are increasingly destroying families. Laying more emphasis on such activities in the upcoming activities of sport for development organisations may have a significant effect.

Furthermore, individuals may engage in non-verbal communication while playing board games, and players are more likely to have the opportunity to gather and participate in a fun activity with others. In facilitating the interaction between young people from various regions in the world via new technologies, these factors could enhance not only individuals’ social networks, but also cultural exchange among people with different educational and social backdrops.

It has also been demonstrated that board games may help children learn to follow rules and stay seated for a certain amount of time, that it may increase children’s concentration levels, and that it can improve health education by stimulating players’ interests and motivation. One of the biggest challenges of sport for development institutions is the sustainability of the impacts of their projects. That is the reason why widening the mindset of beneficiaries of such projects is critical and board games can be used to raise awareness of the stakes of the true and sustainable development.

The Latin maxim “mens sana in corpore sano”, a healthy mind in a healthy body is well known. The idea is to seriously take into account intellectual games beside physical activities while designing projects related to sport and development, for they may be more impactful than one may think. In a globalising and globalised world where people are increasingly disconnected from the real world, the hyperreal world as described by Jean Baudrillard, those games may help different generations to reconnect with the natural world, and help people to be more actors of change and development in their communities.

Fongang Tchewonpi Aristide is a graduate student at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture. Sociology is his first discipline and he deals also with issues related to sport and development.


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Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 12:19