This thematic profile introduces the concepts surrounding sport and disaster response. It includes an overview of the key issues along with links to recommended reading and resources.

Disasters, both natural and man-made, have occurred for many centuries and continue to affect the lives of millions of people across the world. Humanitarian relief efforts provide assistance to rehabilitate and rebuild communities affected by disaster. To address emotional distress, disaster responders have traditionally used a clinical mental health approach, focusing on trauma recovery. Trauma occurs when a person is exposed to a life-threatening event and their response is most often one of intense horror, fear and/or helplessness.

A psychosocial approach

In recent years humanitarian organisations have begun to look more towards psychosocial interventions to address both emotional and social needs of people affected by disasters. A psychosocial intervention will aim to use community resources in order to rebuild the coping capacities of individuals affected by disasters, thus enhancing their inner strength, responsiveness and flexibility in the face of high levels of stress and traumatic events. In other words, this re-enforces their resilience - an inner strength, responsiveness and flexibility that enable them to withstand stress and trauma.

More and more projects are emerging that use sport as a psychosocial tool in disaster response. Sport interventions are being used in the field as a non-medical approach to build the coping capacities of people affected by disasters. Psychosocial sport projects are not about winning and losing but rather about the process of helping people to restore their social and psychological health. It is important to emphasise that the definition of sport used here goes beyond competitive sport but also includes notions of play and recreation.

Sport as a component of disaster response

Although the use of sport and play as a part of psychosocial disaster response efforts outlined in this section focuses on the use of sport and play specifically, it does not mean to imply an exclusive focus on sport and play as the only element in a psychosocial response to disasters. The points raised in this section seek to highlight particular peculiarities pertaining to sport and play that may be beneficial in disaster response, as part of a wider disaster response framework, including e.g. nutrition, health and sanitation provision; education provision, generating economic opportunities, and so on.

Photo by Sam Mann




This section was developed in partnership with Fondation Terre des hommes.