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Is political will holding back the impact of sport for global change?


Is political will holding back the impact of sport for global change?

Dynamic leaders from the world of sport, politics and academia believe that a lack of political will and courageous leadership in sport and politics is holding back the mainstream use of sport to address nationwide change, it emerged during a panel discussion at this year’s Beyond Sport Summit in London.

The panel was facilitated by Alastair Campbell, who boldly asked ‘Are we really using the positives of sport for social good?’ His skepticism and critical assumptions of sport are justified. Whilst grassroots organisations continue to develop communities around the world, there are few examples of sport-political interventions that spark conversations around nationwide change. Outside the stories that galvanise sport as a symbol of change - Nelson Mandela in a Springbok jersey is one of the sport and development sector’s most reiterated emblems - can sport ‘really’ bring about more than grassroots change and if so, why are there so few examples?

The man closest to the infamous story is former Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar, who together with Mandela built a national narrative for a newly democratic South Africa. He believes that the careful crafting of new identity woven within a powerful cultural form was only successful because of the daring vision and audacity of a political leader. Arguing these leaders are found few and far between, he believes that those in positions of power and responsibility lack a moral compass and this is holding back the wider symbolism of sport.

Director at SOAS, University of London, Baroness Amos, agreed with Pienaar and as a supporter in the stands of the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final, dispelled critics who believed that a single event could influence and change the minds of an entire country previously subjected to systemic discrimination. She does however highlight that sport is currently unable to bring about a deep level of social change because societies structured on class, race and other labels need more than just symbolic storytelling to transform. Sport humanises stories of suffering, but it needs to be embedded in political conversations. These conversations, like courageous leaders, are not surfacing.

Instead, sport can have an adverse effect and be used to create divisions, such as the Serbia vs. Albania Euro qualifying match earlier this year, in which a drone carrying a political flag was flown into the stadium. When a senior Serbian administrator supported the ambush, the influence and message only reinforced divides. Speaking on the event, Edi Rama, prime minister of Albania and a keen sportsman, shared experiences of where politicians have deliberately separated the two worlds of sport and politics – a strong indication that political will to tell symbolic stories through sport is a strategic decision.

Mandela once said: “There are few misfortunes in this world that you cannot turn into a personal triumph if you have the iron will and the necessary skill”, and as today’s leaders face climates of corruption and extremism, perhaps this is the perfect time to exercise that political will and potential of sport.

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team]


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Mel Paramasivan


Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - 23:00