There is an urgent need for politicians, policymakers, administrators and practitioners to differentiate between the ‘Development of Sports’ and ‘Sports for Development.’ This is required to save the ‘innocence’ of sports from becoming the proverbial verbal football of politicians and the general public for all the wrong reasons.
In recent times a lot has been said about sports, however, a great deal has either been oversimplified, overestimated, omitted and or totally ignored. As a corollary sports is being saddled with an unpleasant character and image.
The ‘Development of Sports’ focuses on athletes excelling in their respective sporting disciplines on the world stage. Therefore, the significant focus is on talent identification and the provision of resources—funding, training facilities, scholarship etc—to athletes representing the country on the world stage such as the Olympics where gold medals and world records are the ultimate return on such investments. The objectives, targets and outcomes of the ‘Development of Sports’ are clearly stated and measurable. Additionally, opportunistic political and economic actors use any sterling performances on any sporting world stage to serve their respective causes.
On the other hand, ‘Sport for Development’ focuses on sports as a means of building the social life of society especially as it relates to health, community integration and addressing social issues facing ‘youth at risk’ such as juvenile delinquency, gang activities and a general breakdown in the social fabric of the society. Although the objectives are clear, the targets and outcomes of ‘Sports for Development’ programmes are problematic to measure.
In the last two (2) years or thereabout, a number of programmes have been initiated under the umbrella of ‘sport for development.’ The main programmes have been the ‘Hoop of Life’ basketball project and the LifeSport programme. The ‘Hoop of Life’ project is aimed at social control of ‘youth at risk’ in crime ‘hotspot’ areas throughout the country.
After two (2) years the programme is being reviewed for its management and effectiveness. The LifeSport programme is also directed at young males who are at ‘risk’ of engaging in sociably questionable lifestyles. The programme is currently being audited for any managerial irregularities. Lennox Bernard’s ‘Give a Sporting Chance,’ in his contribution to the Ryan Report (2013) “No Time to Quit: Engaging Youth At Risk,” also addressed the potential of sports as a mechanism of addressing social deviance. Each of these projects will be analysed from a sporting perspective in subsequent columns.
Any attempt to effectively use sports as a means of addressing ‘youth at risk’ requires an analytical framework to assess deviance and collect robust and reliable data to constantly evaluate the overall programme. To date, there has been much discussion about the programmes but little information forthcoming on the basis of the respective strategies have been implemented. For instance who is defined as ‘youth at risk’? Is the data collected thus far able to justify the continued use of sports as a social intervention?
Additionally, why has youth sports been identified as possessing the potential answer to the variety of social issues facing young people today? Can it be said with assurance that sports is the best means to inculcate important life skills? Is sports the focus? Is sports a sustainable industry for participants of the programmes?
Are there other programmes already existing to which the resources could be combined to provide greater opportunity to the participants? Is the technical expertise of psychologists, social workers etc being used in conjunction with sporting personalities? It must not be assumed that playing sports automatically results in a person being an effective coach or mentor especially when dealing with ‘youth at risk’.
How is the programme being measured in terms of outcomes? Is the implementation approach top-down or collaborative where participants are part of the decision making process? How is the data being collected? How is the data being used in the re-evaluation of the programme?
If the problems facing ‘youth at risk’ are related to structured economic decline and inequalities in the communities identified, why is there a belief that organized youth sport programmes will solve the many problems? In other words, if at the end of the day the youth has to return to social and economic conditions that do not allow him to use his newly acquired skills, how will the programme be viewed? Since the state is involved in these programmes, is there any guarantee to the participants that the programme will continue if a new government is elected or even if a new minister within the same government takes control of the programme?
As much as the intention may be good, it is important that those who want to use sports as a means of quieting social deviance, to remember that sports is only a tool in the development process and as such must not be expected to produce miracles. Let us stop playing ‘sports’ with sports!!!