Using sport and play in the post-disaster setting takes more than simply rolling a ball on the pitch. According to an expert account of sport programmes in Bam, when children were invited to play, “…no one moved. They were totally inhibited as if they had stayed frozen since the earthquake.”

There are a number of key considerations in developing psychosocial sport programmes to achieve maximal effectiveness. These include:

  • Deliver well-structured and planned interventions based on identified psychosocial goals
  • Aim to meet the needs of all community groups
  • Actively recruit the less-powerful or mobile members of a community
  • Develop the programme in collaboration with local organisations and agencies
  • Consider long-term sustainability from the outset

The needs of the most vulnerable community groups should be considered including those of women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Programmes also need to be flexible enough to adapt to changing needs of participants and be sensitive to local culture, traditions and gender relationships.

In relation to sport activities, it is important to bear in mind that local attitudes towards particular sports may prevail that dictate which social groups traditionally have or had access to competitive sport. For example, if sports were considered to be only accessible to social elites within the community, disaster responses that focus on the most vulnerable should consider how using a particular sport may be interpreted within the local community.

Experience shows that efforts are more successful when emphasis has been placed on the rehabilitative and recreational aspects of sport and play, rather than the sport itself. Disaster responders and coaches must bear in mind that rules to games can be changed in order to further emphasise the psychosocial benefits of sport, including building relationships or trust, self-confidence, partnership and resiliency.

The physical space for sport and play activities is a crucial aspect to take into account in the planning and implementation of such programmes. In most disaster settings, space is particularly important, especially in camps for refugees or the displaced. Space for sport and play activities must be allocated with the participation and ‘buy in’ of the local community.

The experiences of loss, grief, guilt and other emotions can emerge in survivors of disasters as well as in disaster responders. Disaster responders can benefit from participating in physical activities which helps them both manage their own stress and trauma and to be more effective when helping others.

As with other areas of development and humanitarian aid, monitoring and evaluation of projects is essential to gauge how effectively a programme is meeting its intended aims. There are a number of challenges associated with conducting monitoring and evaluations in a post-disaster setting. However, a commitment to improve existing assessment tools will go a long way to enhance psychosocial sport programmes by building on empirical evidence.      

Experts have highlighted the central role that the family and community can play in building the resilience of an individual. The participation of the family unit in overcoming trauma and accelerating the healing process is crucial.

Image by Ny Menghor