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Investment in technology is the/a key to rebuilding the sport sector post-COVID

Copyrights: Commonwealth

Investment in technology is the/a key to rebuilding the sport sector post-COVID

A commentary from the Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace Network on the Fifth Annual Commonwealth Debate.

“Was it the key as opposed to a key?” This remark by Commonwealth of Nations Secretary-General Patricia Scotland succinctly summarized the difference in arguments from the participants in the fifth Commonwealth debate on sport and sustainable development.

As a member on the steering committee of the Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace Network (CYSDP), I am reminded of the research my colleagues past and present have done regarding the emerging role of e-sport. Adeola Adesoba, Lewis Keane, and Robert Njane, among others, have carried out research on sport and technology and shared their findings on numerous platforms. As we move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there is disagreement among scholars and practitioners in the sport for development and peace (SDP) field about the role of investment in technology.

In arguing for the motion during the debate, London Sport representative Alex Zurita noted that 80 billion euros are spent on addressing inactivity and warned that if the SDP field does not prioritize technology, other sectors will. Rwandan government secretary Yves Iradukunda issued a similar warning that working against the tide of a younger generation with ample access to technology will be “at our own peril.” Furthermore, Global E-Sports Federation Vice President Chester King pointed out that 60 percent of the Commonwealth is under 30, and e-sport can serve as a “gateway” to sport, thus concluding that more investment should be made in technology.

On the other side of the debate, Jamaican government minister Olivia Grange highlighted the neglected issue of non-communicable diseases and concluded that investment in more traditional avenues of sport would be more effective. Gold medalist swimmer Natalie du Toit argued that sport is ultimately driven by people and not technology. Finally, Professor Simon Darnell emphasized that technology has a role to play but “the key” of SDP is not in technology alone.

After hearing these points from all of the speakers, I feel that Dame Louise Martin’s declaration of the debate as a “draw” is the correct one. As a former teaching assistant for Professor Darnell at the University of Toronto, I understand his longstanding emphasis on building inclusive SDP programs that enshrine human rights in a durable, sustainable manner.

Having served in the CYSDP Network in the past few years where (even before the COVID-19 pandemic) former representative Richard Loat called e-sport “the once in a lifetime chance to build a new sport the right way,” I can also understand the opportunities associated with integrating sport and technology. Current CYSDP Chairperson Adeola Adesoba shares similar nuanced viewpoints upon viewing the debate, noting the following lessons learned:

  • Investment in technology may serve high performance sport to a larger extent, but it is not likely to impact significantly on mass participation or sport for development and peace programmes.
  • Technology is pervasive and simultaneously not equitably available.  Just like people, tech can promote the good (inclusive possibilities) and bad (toxic masculinity) in all forms (evidenced in games such as League of Legends). Sport for development and tech can co-exist, but it needs to be driven by key values in efforts to meet any outcomes of interest.
  • Infrastructure is required and important to enable young people to participate in sports especially in low- and middle-income countries.

As I write this piece in the second year where many countries in the Commonwealth and around the world will commemorate the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace in mostly virtual and physically distanced ways, it is important to remember the words of Commonwealth Secretary General’s Champion for Equality in Sports Anne Wafula Strike in her special address following the debate: “Unless and until the track or the field is level for everyone, it is not level for anyone.”


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Alvin Ma, Adeola Adesoba


Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - 09:03

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