This article explores an emerging trend of celebrity athletes being ambassadors for sport for development and peace, and the impact and implications of this.
It is not uncommon for star athletes to be involved in sport for development and peace (SDP) initiatives as role models, be it a long-term ambassadorship or a short-term commitment. As the SDP sector has been continuously growing in the past two decades, scientific interest in the field has developed as well. Nonetheless, there are still gaps in the literature regarding high-profile athlete endorsed SDP initiatives. This article explores high-profile athletes’ involvement in SDP, and its purpose is to identify the characteristics these athletes need to have in order to be successful as ambassadors in SDP. Nine semi-structured interviews with SDP practitioners on athlete-ambassadorship are analysed, through the lens of Goodman and Barnes’ ‘development celebrity’ and ‘star/poverty space’ concepts. The responses from the interviews revealed that celebrities used in SDP programmes need to be popular not only on a global level, but specifically in the local context, among the beneficiaries as well. These ambassadors and mentors need to understand SDP in order to be authentic contributors to the programmes. Credibility is essential, but also fragile as the media attention, which is so valuable for promotion purposes, can backfire in the case of any scandals.