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Social innovation through sport


Social innovation through sport

With sport being used around the world as a tool to achieve development goals, sportanddev asks what makes sport’s contribution to development innovative?

At the Educasport World Forum, sportanddev co-moderated a round table discussion on “Education through sport: Is it a field of social innovation?” The content of this article reflects some of the thoughts and opinions shared during the round table. Innovation is an often used word and it needs to be justified if the claim is to be made that sport and development (S&D) is in fact innovative.

An innovative field

While sport’s contribution to human and social development is not new, the widespread use of sport as a tool to achieve development goals is still relatively new. Examples of sport being used to address major social issues continue to emerge and reveal the innovativeness of S&D.

So what are some of the factors that make S&D innovative?

The range of sports available
Whether using ice hockey in Northern Ireland to bring Catholic and Protestant communities together, skateboarding in Afghanistan to empower young girls or rowing in urban American cities to build the confidence of young minorities, the range of sports available to S&D initiatives is an important factor that makes it an innovative field.

Sport’s use in even the most challenging contexts
Challenging environments can turn an otherwise regular use of sport into an innovative tool. The world watched as cyclone Haiyan ripped through the Philippines, leaving a trail of destruction and tragedy behind. Only days after, images emerged of youth playing basketball, somehow finding a way to cope with their new reality. In the face of natural and man-made disasters, sport is being used as an innovative tool for distraction and healing.

Non-conventional approaches to the way sport is used

By adapting sport to suit the needs of participants and their surroundings, the way in which sport is being used can also be innovative. Whether adapting a sport for people with disabilities as in the case of sitting volleyball or adopting a recreational model of sport to encourage reaching larger social goals and discourage a winning-at-all-costs mentality, many are finding innovative ways to use sport.

The versatility of sport
Integrating immigrant populations, empowering women and girls, building relationships between communities torn apart by war and conflict and educating about HIV/AIDS are just a few of the goals that S&D initiatives are helping to tackle through sport. The versatility of such initiatives make them innovative as they seek to address some of the most challenging development issues of our day.

In short, and as Dr. Anne Bund-Birouste of Football United said at the Educasport World forum, “It is the proper use of sport that is important”. Understanding what this means in practice can be a challenge. However, as long as human and social progress remains the priority, sport will remain an innovative tool for development.


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Stephen Reynard


Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 23:00