Insights from sports and democracy to catalyze their collective global impact
Democracy is a team sport and there is no “I” in a team. When sports and democracy are intertwined, it creates avenues and possibilities for solutions to a web of societal problems. Though they are distinct concepts, the core foundation of it lies in equality, freedom, and participation among others. Sports is a force that can encourage strengthening democratic values and foster an equitable playing field. Both these concepts emphasize the importance of freedom. Freedom to express themselves without the fear of persecution as one of the stumbling blocks in democracy is fear and ignorance.
In sports, all players are supposed to be treated equally regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or social status. This idea of equality is also a fundamental principle of democracy. But, there is a denial of access to sports infrastructure due to poverty, the concentration of stadiums only in cities, and the lack of encouragement for girls has impaired sports culture. The IPL is an Indian professional Twenty20 cricket league established in 2008. It took 15 years to introduce the Women's Premier League and only recently the gender pay parity initiative taken up by the richest cricket board in the world.
Democratizing sports in the developmental sector can involve various strategies that promote access, inclusion, and participation in sports activities among all individuals, regardless of their social or economic status. Making sports facilities and equipment accessible to all individuals can be an effective way to democratize sports. This can involve investing in community sports facilities, promoting public-private partnerships to develop sports infrastructure, and making sports equipment available at affordable rates. Encouraging inclusion and diversity in sports can help democratize the sector. This can involve promoting gender equality in sports, developing programs for people with disabilities, and promoting sports activities for all age groups.
Education and training can play an essential role in democratizing sports in the developmental sector. This can involve developing sports training programs for coaches, trainers, and athletes to promote sports excellence and skill development. Promoting grassroots sports programs can help democratize sports by encouraging participation from individuals who may not have had access to sports activities in the past. This can involve developing local sports clubs, promoting community-based sports events, and encouraging participation from underrepresented groups. Public-Private Partnerships: Developing public-private partnerships can help mobilize resources and expertise to democratize sports in the developmental sector.
Similar to how grassroots movement is a critical pillar of democracy, community-led models form a critical pillar for making sports democratic.
Measuring outcomes and what we measure as impact become critical to gauge the effectiveness of community lead models. In the United Kingdom, a lot of focus is on measuring active lives among the adult population. Recently a survey by one of the leading sportswear companies found that 57% had never played even one sport in a whole year in India. Like in democracy, it becomes paramount to understand - what is the end goal through which we want to democratize sports and measure outcomes towards it.
Overall, democratizing sports in the developmental sector requires a multifaceted approach that involves increasing access, promoting inclusion, investing in education and training, developing grassroots sports programs, and fostering public-private partnerships.
The 1992 Barcelona Olympics were used as a tool to promote the new democratic government in Spain and its commitment to human rights. The games were seen as a symbol of Spain's transition to democracy and helped to promote the country's image on the international stage. This demonstrates how sports have been used as a diplomatic tool to promote diplomacy, reconciliation, unity, and human rights on an international stage.
Sports can be a powerful tool for promoting diplomacy, fostering international relations and bridging cultural divides: sports can break down cultural barriers and provide a common ground for people from different countries and backgrounds to come together.
Sporting events can promote cultural exchange and understanding, allowing individuals to learn about each other's customs, traditions, and values. Sports can be a vehicle for promoting peace by bringing people together in a spirit of friendly competition. Sporting events can create a sense of shared identity and promote a message of peace and goodwill. The Refugee Olympic Team introduced is a perfect example of how sports can democratically provide a platform for people from all circumstances and backgrounds to have a voice and express themselves.
Sports and democracy have had their share of controversies and their relationship is still evolving through the 21st century. Starting from Harry Edwards and African-American athletes on 7 October 1967 formed the Olympic Committee for Human Rights (OCHR). One of the critical agendas of the committee was to garner resources and support to boycott the 1968 Olympics to be held in Mexico. This later led to the famous “revolt of the black athlete” movement. More recently, the Black Lives Matter movement led to sporting events across the world making the gesture of taking a knee. Like in democracy, sports has always found a way to let its members express their perspectives through history.
Sporting events can provide a platform for dialogue between countries and individuals, allowing for the discussion of important issues and promoting mutual understanding. Sporting events can create economic opportunities for countries and communities. Hosting major sporting events can generate significant revenue, promote tourism, and provide employment opportunities. Sports and democracy can go hand in hand to play a valuable role in promoting diplomacy and fostering international relations by breaking down cultural barriers, promoting peace, building relationships, providing a platform for dialogue, and creating economic opportunities.
About the author
Anuradha Sharma is head of innovation at Bridges of Sports Foundation. She has a background in law and journalism and is currently involved in ensuring democratic access to sports excellence to remote communities in India.
Follow her work: https://www.instagram.com/bridgesofsports/