In Part I of this multi-part Situationist series, I assessed the oft-repeated assertion that sport can help reconcile groups after a period of intra-state or inter-state conflict. In this section, I will discuss the scholarly literature in favor of this assertion.
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Current Theoretical Background on Sport Participation as Reconciliation
The idea of employing sport as a means of addressing group conflict has been gaining traction in academia. U.K. education scholar Richard Bailey of Roehampton University, for instance, points to the fact that student participation in sports may mitigate the risk of student social alienation and enhance a sense of social inclusion (Bailey, 2002).
Sociologist Fred Coalter of the University of Stirling similarly observes that participation in sport has increasingly been used by the state to promote societal integration and social cohesion. As Coalter observes, the British government has poured considerable resources into related sport participation programs, including grassroots campaigns and sporting facilities used by the British public (pp. 538-539).
University of Amsterdam communications researchers Floris Muller, Liesbiet van Zoonen and Laurens de Roode argue that those views are taking root in academic, civic, and political circles: “Countless soccer leagues, matches and tournaments have been organized around the world with the explicit goal of challenging violence, racism, social exclusion and even environmental issues.” (2008)
Such sporting initiatives can be found in seemingly dissimilar countries, such as the Netherlands and Ghana. In the Netherlands, the City of Amsterdam organizes the WK Amsterdam in which immigrants from various ethnic communities compete in a mock “World Cup.” This exercise is intended to promote inter-group unity and communication in Amsterdam. Likewise, in Ghana, the non-governmental organization Right to Play is working with Ghanaian officials in order to improve the “[p]romotion of healthy development of communities through a coaching-based approach . . . ” (Right to Play, 2001).
The Netherlands and Ghana are obviously two very different countries. A quick look at the Human Development Index shows that the Netherlands is considered a top 10 highly developed country while Ghana lags well behind at #139. The fact that both use sport and sport participation suggests that sport participation can be an effective tool of local and intra-state social development and bridge-building.
“Sports as panacea” can also be detected in an international context. In a recent paper, Ingrid Beutler of the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace states that the international community draws lessons from humanitarians working at local and intra-state levels. Beutler posits that sports have the capacity to increase inter-state interaction. She evidences the point by noting that the United Nations has established the post of Special-Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace in Geneva and New York. The Special-Adviser is entrusted with fostering international cooperation through sport (Beutler, 2008, 11:4).
This model has also gained traction in the United States. A perusal of the U.S. Department of State’s website uncovers the SportsUnited program. The program is designed to aid youth, ages 7-17, in discovering how success in athletics can be translated into the development of life and educational skills. The program provides Americans the opportunity to learn about foreign cultures and the challenges facing young people from overseas (U.S. Department of State, 2006).
Modern scholarship appears to recognize the value of sport and sport participation in creating peaceable inter-group relations both within and between states. In addition, many governments have accepted the theoretical benefits offered by sport and resorted to using sport and sport participation as a method to build positive inter-group relations. Thus, from an educational, sociological, political science and communications perspective, sport as a tool for inter-group reconciliation seems to be alive and well.
Part III of this series will pick up there.
Bailey, R. (2002, August 31). Challenging Disaffection: Best Practice & the Management of Disaffection. Retrieved May 18, 2008, from ESRC Society Today.
Bailey, R. (2005). Evaluating the relationship between physical education, sport and social inclusion. Educational Review, Volume 57, Number 1 , 71-90.
Beutler, I. (2008, 11:4). Sport serving development and peace: Achieving the goals of the United Nations through sport. Sport in Society , 359-269.
Coalter, F. (2007). Sports Clubs, Social Capital and Social Regeneration: ‘ill-defined interventions with hard to follow outcomes’? Sport in Society, 10:4 , 537 — 559.
Muller, F., van Zoonen, L., & de Roode, L. (2008). The social integrative powers of sport: An analysis of the imagined and real effects of sport events for multicultural integration. Sociology of Sport Journal , (Forthcoming).
Right to Play. (2001, November). Ghana SportHealth. Retrieved April 23, 2008, from Right to Play.
U.S. Department of State. (2006, November 9). Remarks With Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes and Public Diplomacy Envoy Michelle Kwan. Retrieved March 6, 2008, from U.S. Department of State.