Edition number 8; dateline 2 July 2008

When the world is not enough

We are now less than two months from the 2008 Olympic Games and the preparation for athletes all round the world is reaching fever pitch. Although I could never aspire to  Olympic level, my own competitive juices are running at the moment as I ‘race’ (or is it stumble?) towards the Lincoln triathlon in a few weeks time.

Despite the nation’s focus on elite sport at this time of the year as Wimbledon draws to a close and we head to Beijing, it is interesting to consider what role sport can and does play in our lives. Sport England have now published their strategy for the future with the national governing bodies and the delivery of sport at its heart. So are we moving away from the use of sport for community development purposes? At the moment it is probably too early to say but as we ‘watch this space’ my thoughts turned to the use of sport around the world.

Let’s face it, whenever we think about the Olympics we think of the elite sports people who are obsessively determined to ‘win’; they are the female and male reincarnations of Adonis! In fact there is so much money involved at every level of an Olympics Games we can be forgiven if we have a view that it is a very elite and commercial event purely focused on ‘being the best’. However, if you dig just under the surface it is clear that the Olympic Movement is much more than top-level competitive sport. The following quotes begin to give us a flavour:

“Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”
Olympic Charter, Fundamental principles, paragraph 1

“The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
International Olympic Committee

No sign of Leonidas of Rhodes or Seb Coe! It would seem that Mr and Ms Ordinary are more of a focus to our friends in Olympic world. In fact if you visit the IOC’s web site (www.olympic.org) you will see that there are eight missions and only three are exclusively about the elite end of sport. There are in fact such areas of work such as ‘Human Development and Assistance’ and ‘Promotion of Women in Sport’. The International Olympic Committee also supports a ‘Sports For All Congress’ which is an international conference on sports development run every two years (next one in November 2008 in Malaysia) and has been in existence since 1994.

If we dig a little further we find that it isn’t just the IOC who are involved in using sport for development purposes: there is a wide programme, primarily known as ‘Sport For Development’. This development tool uses sport when addressing issues such as HIV/Aids, more general healthy living (particularly with young people), education, reducing conflict, increasing social cohesion and community economic development. This work is fronted by such organisations such as ‘Right to Play’, an international charity which functions in 23 countries such as Uganda, Sudan and Indonesia. However, you may be interested to learn that our own UK Sport (remember – they look after elite sport…) have an international unit which has an ‘International Development Assistance Programme’ which uses sport ‘as a tool for human development’, functioning primarily in the African sub-Sahara region. It also has its own charitable arm, ‘International Development Through Sport (IDS)’, which has the following key themes:

• promote equity and remove gender and disability barriers
• develop young leaders with sport and life skills
• delivery effective HIV/ Aids education
• offer trauma relief and rehabilitation
• assist with conflict resolution

A further programme, delivered by the British Council and the Youth Sport Trust, is ‘Dreams and Teams’, which again uses sport when working in developing countries to help support individuals in term of leadership and citizenship skills.

So where am I taking all of this information and what might we do with it? Firstly, I think it interesting and useful to learn from and the experiences of the international community. What can we take away from what is happening out there to use in this country? Sometimes I feel like we are in our own little sports development bubble with nothing else happening out there.

Secondly, I think that we should not throw the baby out with the bath water. What do I mean? We should have balanced sports development programmes which focus both on sport for sport’s sake and using sport as a great development tool; if we think it is good enough to export around the world then surely we should be continuing to support and develop programmes at home. Let’s not be all one camp or another. The issue should drive the programme, then let’s find which is the most appropriate organisation and/ or funder. We hear about being ‘athlete centred’ and ‘coach centred’ but perhaps we should be thinking about ‘person centred’ and ‘community centred’; after all, a community can be those taking part in competitive sport as well as a geographic area.

And lastly, more of us should be taking our experiences to a wider audience. We have some of the best sports development programmes in the world and we should shout a little more about them rather than continually putting ourselves down – the British disease.

As I turn down the bubbles of the Hot Tub for this month, I will continue to try and not follow the latest strategy or ‘new thing’ just because someone tells me to but to carry on considering what will work best for the situation I am dealing with. I hope you will join me in this endeavour and also in seeking more awareness about the World and Sports Development, not just the Sports Development World.


Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a CSN and a member of the interim board of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd, which offers a range of support services in the sport and leisure industry working in volunteer/workforce development and facility development.



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