The importance of sports and democracy in building a better society
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Shiling Lin
This article discusses the intersection of sports and democracy, highlighting the importance of ensuring basic needs and promoting equal access to sports resources, while also acknowledging the unique and valuable contribution of local sports culture.

When it comes to promoting regional economic development, one of the most innovative tools that can be used is sports. By using sports as a tool for poverty alleviation, we can help communities become more resilient, active, and engaged. But what happens when sports becomes more of an optional extra instead of the focus? Is it still worth pursuing, or should we instead prioritize the basic needs of people? 

In 2021, I started a research project focused on sports poverty alleviation. My main goal was to use sports as a tool to promote regional economic development. I believed that in China, the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai did not represent the vast territory of China, and that the people in more developing city clusters truly represented China. I applied to the China Poverty Alleviation Foundation, now the China Rural Development Foundation, expressing my desire to work as a sports poverty alleviation project manager. To my surprise, they readily accepted my academic research, experience, and passion for sports. I was deeply grateful for their acceptance.

In my second week at the foundation, we encountered a once-in-a-century flood in Henan Province. We stayed in the disaster area for nearly three months, living in a hotel that cost only 70 yuan (10 USD) per night, with the main task of assessing the disaster situation, distributing supplies, and counting materials. This experience was completely different from my previous experience of scouting new NBA players in Las Vegas during the Summer League. It completely changed my perspective.

When natural disasters strike, life becomes small and fragile. The most basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and transportation become the focus of democracy. Sports become an optional extra. While it is important to maintain the basic needs of the people and democracy, we hope that sports can still be fun and not a waste of resources.

Sports should be an important part of our lives. It is not just a form of entertainment, but it also promotes physical fitness, social interaction, and mental well-being. However, when we talk about sports, we tend to focus on international events. We forget that there are unique local sports cultures that are equally important and valuable.

Local sports culture is the collective expression of a community's values, traditions, and beliefs. It is shaped by its geography, climate, history, and people. It is what makes sports unique and interesting. Local sports culture nurtures unique sports projects that are different from some sports we are familiar with. For instance, kayaking might be the preferred sport in one town, while basketball is the most popular in another. But how do we protect these local sports cultures and prevent them from being overrun by international brands and sports that are popular globally?

It is not uncommon for companies to donate money to build sports facilities or support sports programs as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. However, the scope of their public welfare is often limited to sports such as basketball, football, and tennis, which leads to the bias and non-democracy of sports resources. These companies are restricted to their own product lines and do not take into account the unique local sports culture.

For example, imagine a town near a river where kayaking is the preferred sport. A group of international brands donate money to build a basketball court at the school. As a result, kayaking is no longer an option. The students who once loved kayaking are forced to participate in basketball instead. This results in fewer people participating in kayaking, and the industry declines. But we don’t want to see that, right? Right?!

In conclusion, sports can be a powerful tool for promoting democracy and building a better society. By ensuring that everyone has access to basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and transportation, we can create a foundation for a more equal and just society. And by promoting sports that are unique to each community, we can celebrate diversity and strengthen local cultures. However, we must also be careful not to let corporate interests or international pressure dictate which sports are promoted at the expense of others. Only by prioritizing the needs and desires of each community can we truly create a democratic and inclusive sports culture that benefits everyone. 


About the author
The writer is a prospective Ph.D. student of Isenberg Management school, UMass and a IOC Young Leader 2021-2024.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shilinglin/



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16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
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