Sports unite people and nations worldwide by giving them a healthy outlet to work towards. Furthermore, sports give billions of people something to root for, whether it is a small town that is rooting for their local baseball team or an entire nation cheering for their national curling team in the Winter Olympics. Within sports, things such as race or political creed matter little, as only individual and/or team excellence matters. Overall, sports are a tool for social and economic development because of the way it encourages mutual and international cooperation and competition. Some nations want to be the best in the world and use that for political gain, while other nations use their own natural resources in order to help fuel sport-related tourism. The influence of sports is everywhere, and this essay will explore how sports brings communities together, how it brings nations and societies together, and how in turn sports are used to fuel social and economic development.
Sports have traditionally brought people together. An example of this would be regarding Canadian immigrants playing sports, which “… was an important cultural practice for immigrants trying to preserve or create a sense of ethnocultural identity or solidarity” (Joseph 29). Furthermore, in order to help a flagging community of people, research has shown that “… restoring ‘cultural continuity’ is at the heart of the healing process” (Kope, and Arellano 396). In order to fit into the communities that they are trying to integrate to, immigrants would pick up the sports that their new countrymen were playing. If a family immigrated to Canada, perhaps their son or daughter would play hockey or lacrosse. If a family immigrated to America, maybe the family’s children would play football or basketball. The intrinsic need to fit within sort of framework is imbedded within humanity, and sports offer an easy method of integrating into a new environment, as everyone playing a sport shares a common interest.
For instance, in order to help restore that continuity for the Whitefish River First Nation peoples, sports have been suggested in order to help both their youth and community ‘wellbeing’. This is because “… such programs have a long history of structures, purposes, and intentions that became recently within the rhetoric of ‘sport and development and peace’” (Kope, and Arellano 396). Essentially, sports are a tool that can (and should) be used to help foster social growth. If a community is lacking a stabilizing influence, sports are a great solution. Why? Because sports allow people to ignore their own problems. All that matters are playing the selected game and playing to one’s full potential in order to hopefully win.
However, that does not mean that just randomly implementing sports into a community equals instant success. Instead, “… organizations or programs that attempt to use sport as a vehicle to enhance the psychosocial or educational development of youth must plan carefully and consider a large number of factors” (Petitpas et al, 63). This is not just something limited to the First Nations either. For any ethnic group, “sport organizations operated by ethnic community associations provided youth important opportunities for affirming membership within their own ethnic group and for drawing together people from diverse ethnic groups around common sport interests” (Paraschak, and Tirone 95). This is important, as while sports are a great unifier, one cannot just start a program and hope for the best. There must be a plan that is effectively implemented, and there must be individuals who are willing to work towards a shared goal. Without them, while sports are something that everyone is interested in to some extent, there must be a framework to get the selected sport off the ground.
Sports being a uniting factor is not just limited for men either. Canadian girl’s hockey—something many would not consider a legitimate sport compared to men’s hockey—has gained traction in the last few decades. This is because girl’s hockey has slowly formed a strong community in order to support itself. In 1990, only 8146 girls and women were registered hockey players in Canada while in 2010, 85,624 girls and women were registered hockey players in Canada (Adams, and Leavitt 152). This shows that if there are people willing to work towards a shared goal, even a sport that is initially seen as unappealing will find willing players. Essentially, girls want to play sports, but they will not play if the opportunity is not there.
With getting women involved in sports seeing remarkable success, a study focusing on a racially divided southern U.S. city also showed “… that a genuine partnership between dedicated groups is a successful way of bridging and overcoming differences and creating inter-community wellbeing” (Schulenkorf 3). Basically, if a community is invested in something that is inherently good, such as organized sports, this is a much better thing then allowing real-life problems to dominate every second of people’s lives. In a sense, sports are an ‘off-button’, so to speak. Whenever it gets to be too much, one can easily call together a group of friends to play or watch a sport and forget about the chaos of their day-to-day lives.
As a result of this thinking, special sporting projects have “… been staged to contribute to intergroup togetherness, inclusive social change and local capacity building within and between communities” (Schulenkorf 10). While sports have helped people of different towns and cities build up relations between each other, in recent years it has also been used to great success between different nations.
For nations operating on the international stage “… in recent years, sport has come to be viewed by policy-makers as an increasingly useful tool for advancing a wide range of policies on social welfare and development” (Giulianotti 757). For affluent nations seeking to help other nations that are not quite as successful, sports are a cheap and easy way to invite change that is almost guaranteed to help, rather then the other way around. Sports help people, and it costs little to bring over dozens of soccer balls along with the means to keep producing them to a small town, which simultaneously gives the townspeople a sport to play and the means to potentially support themselves economically.
As such, Sport-for-Development is a relatively new addition to the international lexicon. It is described as a “… means to promote education, health, development and peace” (Burnett 1192). Since its introduction, global networking for sports has skyrocketed, with over 166 programs listed in The International Platform on Sport for Development (Burnett 1192). This is not just a government funded series of operations either: “… Nike… has invested $100 million in the last two years, pledging another $315 million to community-based sports initiatives worldwide” (Burnett 1193). While it is great publicity to be seen helping people in need, Nike and other large companies would not involve themselves and their money if it was not an effective tactic. If one is a policy-maker trying to find a way to invoke meaningful change, sports are a great solution because it involves everyone, from the players to the spectators. If your town’s soccer team is playing against another local town, it produces a comradery as everyone is cheering towards completing a specific goal. Without that goal, that comradery does not exist and may never exist. It gives people a reason to come together and celebrate with each other.
As such, when any nation, struggling or not, decides to initiate “… sport and sport-based economic activities, it is possible to initiate a ‘virtuous circle’ in which new forms of activity are generated… creating jobs and contributing to economic development” (Sport As A Tool For Development And Peace: Towards Achieving The United Nations Millennium Development Goals, 11). If a nation decides that they like a specific sport, say soccer, then it can revolutionize a whole nation’s thinking. To give a brief example, first a nation must create the soccer courts for the players to play. Then the soccer shoes, shin pads, and other clothing needs to be produced. Then the players themselves are needed, as well as the coaches to train them. Overall, an entire economic cycle can be created revolving around one sport which did not exist before, especially for the poorer countries.
As already stated, while sports have been used to help build up nations, they have also been used to help facilitate peace as well. For instance, the program Football for Peace (F4P) is a project that aims to improve relations between “… societies in conflict” (Schulenkorf, and Sugden 238). However, it is not just peace that it can be used for. Instead, sports can be used for political gain that can in turn incite great economic and political change.
North and South Korea prove that sports can be both a social, economic, and political tool. The two nations, founded in 1948, used sports in order to prove that their nations were superior to the other in every shape or form. This went back and forth in various competitions and meetings until South Korea put the contest to rest by hosting the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea’s capitol. The event was “… a major factor in South Korea’s emergence on the world stage… [and] truly marked the end of inter-Korean competition for legitimacy” (Merkel 31). At this point, the world realized that with South Korea able to host the Olympics effectively—something North Korea could not do—South Korea was the Korea that they should continue to work with and make connections with, both on an economic and political level.
The United States is much the same in recognizing the potential strength of sport as a political and economic tool. This is because “globally, the sports sector is valued at USD 36 billion and is predicted to expand by 3 to 5% per year” (Sport As A Tool For Development And Peace: Towards Achieving The United Nations Millennium Development Goals, 10). This includes manufacturing sporting goods, services relating to sports, building and maintaining infrastructure, hosting sporting events, and any other revenue accumulated through the media, sponsors, vendors, or spectators interacting with different sports. (Sport As A Tool For Development And Peace: Towards Achieving The United Nations Millennium Development Goals, 10). This is a reality that many do not realize, because while sports are valuable in of themselves, the industries that appear to support them are perhaps just as (or even more) valuable.
This is shown by the statistic that economically, “… tourism and travelling is expected to grow by five percent each year up to 2020; the forecast for sports tourism is ten percent each year” (Weed 1). Interestingly, Mike Weed states that sport tourism can vary between singular sports and inter-personal sports, where it can range from a “… formal or informal… activity” (Weed 2). This makes sense, as if one wants to climb Mount Everest, for example, one must pay for the privilege of being able to climb the mountain, as well as all other needed things such as supplies and guides.
For Nepal, Mount Everest “… directly generated 487,500 jobs… representing 3.5 percent of the total employment in the country” (‘Nepal Tourism Generated 487K Direct Jobs In 2014’). This shows that sports in any shape or form can be of great economic help to a nation. Without Mount Everest, hundreds of thousands of people would be without jobs in Nepal. That is a loss one could not take lightly, even in a more developed nation. Without Mount Everest and the sports enthusiasts traveling to Nepal and injecting money into their economy, Nepal would be in a much poorer state overall, which could be easily said for all nations that are invested in sports to some degree, as sports are increasing linked to the world on a social, economic, and politic level.
Sports are the great unifier. Sports allow people to compete over a contest that is not anything other then something remotely related to real-life problems. This is because sports encourage harmony and cooperation amongst one’s peers. Without sports, the world would be a far lesser place, as it is a gently guiding influence in a world that sorely needs it. Sports can give anyone, whether they are from a nation of great affluence or not, a chance to improve themselves, which is why it is used so often as a tool for social and economic development. With sports, anyone can participate, even if they are not the ones playing the sport. After all, for a sport to succeed there must be spectators, and without spectators there are no sponsors or companies willing to invest in the sport. As such, sports are a tool for social and economic development because of the way it encourages mutual and international cooperation, along with healthy competition. It encourages a snowball effect of support in a way that is essentially impossible to stop once truly started, which is good, because the unifying nature of sports is a truly great thing for our increasingly self-reliant world.
- ‘Nepal Tourism Generated 487K Direct Jobs In 2014’. Kathmandupost, 2015, http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2015-03-31/nepal-tourism-generated-487k-direct-jobs-in-2014.html.
- Adams, Carly, and Stacey Leavitt. ‘‘It’s Just Girls’ Hockey’: Troubling Progress Narratives In Girls’ And Women’s Sport’. International Review For The Sociology Of Sport, vol 53, no. 2, 2016, pp. 152.
- Burnett, Cora. ‘Engaging Sport-For-Development For Social Impact In The South African Context’. Sport In Society, vol 12, no. 9, 2009, pp. 1192-93.
- Giulianotti, Richard. ‘The Sport, Development And Peace Sector: A Model Of Four Social Policy Domains’. Journal Of Social Policy, vol 40, no. 04, 2011, pp. 757.
- Joseph, Janelle. Race And Sport In Canada. Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2012, p. 29.
- Kope, Jared, and Alexandra Arellano. ‘Resurgence And Critical Youth Empowerment In Whitefish River First Nation’. Leisure/Loisir, vol 40, no. 4, 2016, pp. 396. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/14927713.2016.1269293.
- Merkel, Udo. ‘Sport As A Foreign Policy And Diplomatic Tool’. Routledge Handbook Of Sport And Politics, Alan Bairner et al., 1st ed., Routledge, 2016, p. 31.
- Paraschak, Victoria, and Susan Tirone. ‘Ethnicity And Race In Canadian Sport’. Social Dimensions Of Canadian Sport And Physical Activity, Jane Crossman and Jay Scherer, 1st ed., Pearson Canada, 2014, p. 95.
- Petitpas, Albert J. et al. ‘A Framework For Planning Youth Sport Programs That Foster Psychosocial Development’. The Sport Psychologist, vol 19, no. 1, 2005, pp. 63.
- Schulenkorf, Nico. ‘Sustainable Community Development Through Sport And Events: A Conceptual Framework For Sport-For-Development Projects’. Sport Management Review, vol 15, no. 1, 2012, pp. 3-10.
- Schulenkorf, Nico, and John Sugden. ‘Sport For Development And Peace In Divided Societies: Cooperating For Inter-Community Empowermentin Israel’. European Journal For Sport And Society, vol 8, no. 4, 2011, pp. 238.
- Sport As A Tool For Development And Peace: Towards Achieving The United Nations Millennium Development Goals. UN Inter-Agency Task Force On Sport For Development Of Peace, pp. 10-11, https://www.un.org/sport2005/resources/task_force.pdf.
- Weed, Mike. ‘Sports Tourism And The Development Of Sports Events’. 2006, p. 1-2.