Sport for development: Ensuring sustainability
Reflecting on this field during these times, a critical question arises:
How can we help ensure that a sports for development project can be sustainable in times of world influx?
Drawing on my experience in sports for development in India, I will look at two complementary areas I feel are critical to answering this question: ground level support and virtual support.
Ground level support
History is constantly teaching us that the key to sustainable systems is that they are grown from within rather than from without. The nature of numerous sports for development projects necessitates various partnerships in order to grow, some coming from abroad. But if the project is not ‘owned’ on the ground level, it will struggle and will have even less chance of success in times of instability. One important aspect of owning a project is growing local level expertise
It is crucial that a primary objective of sports for development programs is the maturation of local training, expertise, and leadership. It is imperative that local leadership develops a sense of pride, and ownership in the programs. They are in the best position to identify and fine-tune the program to the local needs. But, developing this ‘ownership’ can be very challenging as it requires much time, patience and flexibility in the sport program objectives. For instance, if the sports goal is to create a football program this may be achieved quicker if experts were brought in to coach the teams, referee the games and organise the actual event.
However, this system leaves the program dependent on external expertise and sensitive to outside influences. In our current pandemic situation, it is impossible to maintain a program based on these outside experts. Even following the immediate lockdown measures of the pandemic, international travel is likely to be affected for many months to come. Training local specialists must trump the sports objectives in order to help create a sustainable program.
The one area that has thrived during the recent pandemic times is online learning and communication. It is our life line to the world as millions are confined to their homes and sports continues to play a role. As the near future of international travel is still questionable, it is imperative that sports for development projects offer virtual sport support to their participants and programs. But, it is crucial that this is done in a systematic way that is relevant to the needs of their participants.
Similar to education programs, this sports online learning should begin with an overall mission, identifying practical outcomes, and a long term plan put in place. Creating online videos in an ad hoc manner, may have short term gains but more is needed to support a sustainable system. These virtual systems will play a vital role in the continued training of local expertise as well as the participants. This system will help ensure that local expertise can continue receiving any support they need.
The future looks bright
The desire to create sustainable sport for development programs is not a new idea but, this pandemic has forced this field to get a clearer understanding of how to achieve this and begin prioritising these sustainable needs ahead of other program objectives. The hope is that this claririty will, in the future, help to make the sports for development field even stronger!