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The digital divide and sport for development

Copyrights: Vince Mehers, World Parks World Cup

The digital divide and sport for development

As the COVID-19 pandemic forces the world to move online, the digital divide has been exposed. How can the sport for development field move forward without leaving the digitally excluded behind?

During the COVID-19 global pandemic – after my initial panic, disappointments, upsets and confusions -- I joined a few Zoom meetings organised by Beyond Sport. They were great and helped remind me of the bigger picture, and connect and share with the larger sport for development (SfD) family. The pandemic also brought about many new, innovative ways of doing sport and fitness, including Zoom fitness sessions, Skype stretching and YouTube dancing. However, all of this also made me think about the viability of moving everything to the digital space.

Looking at the landscape where we operate, internet-based or online learning was just not a viable option for our 600 plus participants in our programmes that span 3 counties. We operate in a transboundary area, with schools and communities living in sparsely placed rural areas. All these communities had different experiences with lockdown, but certainly no community had any formal schooling taking place. 

The SfD field is very broad, and takes on many different forms. It is also a field that is operating in nation states and disputed regions alike, across religions and cultures, in urban, peri-urban and rural areas as well. This also means that the SfD field operates across all 6 levels of the digital divide, where participants either benefit from it, are abused by it or have no idea what it is, but will do soon. One of my fears is that new and emergent users will drown in the content of the modern internet, and their capacity to be used and abused by the internet is high, if they are not given any guidance. 

The field of SfD has been gaining traction at all levels of governance – from the United Nations to the Commonwealth Secretariat, different national governments, federations, leagues, universities and academia as well. In my country, Mr. Moyo, our Zimbabwean community organiser, is now part of the World Parks, World Cup (WPWC) and Coaches Across Continents (CAC) families, and is connected to the SfD world as well. As a family and a coalition, the SfD world can help the likes of Mr. Moyo, the wider community of children, the rural and urban poor, refugees and the digitally excluded and voices, who are also stakeholders in the SfD world, get connected to the SfD policymakers and authorities. 

The different levels of the digital divide show us what the immediate needs of communities are, what actions can be taken quickly or with a little thought, and what actions need greater planning and partnerships to bridge this divide. Some areas may simply need data, a Wi-Fi router and funds to pay these connections; other places may require devices and data access, or perhaps developing a sports programme app which encourages good content behaviour. In the extreme scenarios, the communities may require infrastructure to be built – this could include satellites, solar power, devices, data connections and an educational app for new users. 

In a post-pandemic landscape, the motto of ‘leave no-one behind’ is even more crucial – the pandemic has exposed the digital divide and laid bare the vast gap between digital haves and the digital have-nots.  As the world tries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to think – is this a problem for the SfD family? Yes. But is it a problem to overcome alone? No. Can a coalition of willing partners from the SfD world start the conversation for the grassroots participants who are digitally excluded? I would say yes. Maybe it is already happening, and if it is, I would love to hear about it.

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]


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Wednesday, September 23, 2020 - 18:54