Round three: Creating spaces for dialogue

Round three: Creating spaces for dialogue

Holly Thorpe argues for a critical perspective on why S&D staff and volunteers appear to be attracted to working in developing nations and a focus on dialogue between different stakeholders within the community.

On a vision for S&D post-2015

As we look forward, I would personally like to see the S&D community more fully embrace broader definitions of ‘sport’, to include a wider array of health-related physical activities, such as yoga and dance, and alternative activities, such as action sports (i.e., skateboarding, parkour). I would also like to see the S&D community focusing on marginalised groups in both developing and developed nations.

As we know, there are still large pockets of poverty and inequality in so-called ‘developed nations’. However, many S&D staff and volunteers from western nations appear to be attracted by the ‘exotic’ nature of doing work in foreign contexts, despite there often being much work to be done in their home countries and communities. In other words, I would like to see the S&D community develop a slightly more critical perspective on some of the assumptions underpinning what we do, where, for whom, and why.

As a sociologist, I am also looking forward to more critical, qualitative, trans-disciplinary research that examines trends across the S&D community and the broader social-cultural-political-economic context. I would like to see more research that explores the grassroots activities being developed by local residents in contexts of war, poverty, or disaster.

For example, following my recent research on grassroots sport in post-earthquake Christchurch (New Zealand), I was particularly interested to observe the spontaneous basketball games being played in a Philippine city devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Rather than focusing primarily on measuring the ‘effectiveness’ of sporting interventions, we should also work towards more culturally-sensitive research that recognises their agency and creates space for the voices about the potential of sport and physical activity for enhancing individual and community socio-psychological health and well-being.

On sport meeting post-2015 challenges

As mentioned in my second contribution to the e-Debate, I believe there is a lot of potential for sport to make a more significant contribution to post-2015 development, particularly if we are able to rethink some of our assumptions about sporting programmes for development in local contexts. As I argued in round two, we need to imagine new ways to utilise existing global and national sporting structures and networks (i.e., transnational sporting corporations, events, media) to mobilise people around the world for both our existing programmes, and broader development issues.

On sport as an effective tool for development

With Professor Alexis Lyras in the second round of the debate, I am not convinced we should be investing our energies in trying to convince others of the value of sporting interventions as effective tools for development. There are certainly many groups and individuals doing amazing work in local communities around the world. Such organisations deserve national and international recognition, and it is great to see some innovative programmes, such as Skateistan, receiving such acclaim for their work.

While well-organised and culturally-sensitive sporting programmes may very well be effective tools for development, it might be more valuable at this particular conjuncture to invest our energies in the exciting process of creating spaces for dialogue between academics, practitioners, key individuals in the sporting industry and community (e.g., socially conscious athletes, companies, journalists, commentators, authors), and those in political positions who are interested/invested in sport and physical activity, to start rethinking the potential of the existing transnational structures and networks within sport to create real social change and to help realise some of the post-2015 development goals.

As long as we stay (uncritically) focused on sport as an interventionist tool in local contexts, our potential to meet the challenges of post-2015 development goals will remain limited.

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[This article has been edited by the Operating Team]

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