Sport for development: A driving community force through Covid-19 and beyond
“Sport” as a broad industry will often espouse its power to change and positively impact lives. And in many ways during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite no action on the sporting field as such, sport has had a vitally important opportunity to step up and prove it! After all we are told that sport is community. Community is people. And community is facing real adversity and people are crying for support. But as soon as the pandemic struck much of sport seemed to put the tools down and scratched their head looking at ways to make an impact.
Sport for development programmes though across many countries have found innovative ways to connect to and support their target groups, and played a critical role in supporting them through this crisis. In Australia some of the work done by the Big Issue Community Street Soccer Program and City in the Community/Melbourne City Football Club really demonstrated the true power of sport to provide a range of supports to those most vulnerable (including homeless and disadvantaged people) subsequently having significant social and health benefits. From online mentoring, physical activity lessons, information-sharing and health promotion across a range of digital platforms, these programmes proved that they could impact lives in a direct and real way even without participation in group face-to-face sporting activity.
The opportunity to make a difference and play a role was driven by strong connections at a local programme level, existing key community and social connections as well as strong organisational capacity, leadership and innovation. In particular, the response was built on existing relationships between participant and programme coaches who are the true leaders and agents of social change. These examples highlight that sport for development programmes have a true understanding of the power of sport to have social impact and can implement concrete mechanisms to achieve these outcomes and adapt to any situation.
The success of these programmes offers a great example to other stakeholders in sport and should give the emerging sport for development sector credibility and recognition. These organisations should be seen as the leaders in the field and help upskill and educate others that have a willingness to use their space in sport to make a difference. It is also a critical opportunity to celebrate the work of these and many other organisations during Covid-19 and highlight their worth to funders including government, corporate and philanthropic bodies.
The future should be bright for those in sport for development who have risen to the occasion and the offered a pathway and leadership that has been mapped for others to follow to really show the true worth of sport to the community. But with challenging economic times post-Covid-19 there are no guarantees. But their outstanding work during the crisis should mean they are further entrusted and resourced to help make a difference when the world dusts itself and begins to address the economic, health and social damage done.
George Halkias is co-founder of the Street Soccer Movement in Australia and National Coach of the Big Issue Community Street Soccer Program. He also develops and manages unique sport for development initiatives for City in the Community/Melbourne City Football Club and consults to other stakeholders in the area of sport for social impact.