The Sport for Development and Peace Sector: An Analysis of Its Emergence, Key Institutions, and Social Possibilities

By Giulianotti, Richard | The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

The Sport for Development and Peace Sector: An Analysis of Its Emergence, Key Institutions, and Social Possibilities


Giulianotti, Richard, The Brown Journal of World Affairs


Since the late 1990s, we have witnessed the emergence and exponential growth of what has become known as the Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) sector. SDP projects use sport as an interventionist tool to promote different types of social development and peaceful social relations across the world. While SDP projects are implemented in both the Global North and South, they tend to be sited in developing regions and in war-torn or post-conflict settings.

It is not possible to provide a complete picture or final calculation of SDP projects, but it might be reasonably estimated that there are now thousands of these initiatives across the world, varying greatly in scale, duration, and mission. The goals that are pursued across the SDP sector include poverty reduction; the education of young people; health promotion and disease prevention education; women's empowerment; and peace building, rehabilitation, and reconstruction in post-conflict contexts.

A substantial volume of academic research on the SDP sector has been undertaken since the late 1990s, particularly in the fields of anthropology, sociology, and political science, with sport studies providing an interdisciplinary foundation for this inquiry.1 My own research and analysis with respect to SDP has been conducted over more than a decade, leading to the publication of papers in academic journals and books. This work has also included participation at the Sport and Development international conference, hosted by the Swiss Academy for Development in Magglingen, in February 2003, and the coproduction of the main text for the section "Peace 1: Sport, Violence and Crisis Situations," as part of the "Magglingen Declaration" at this event.2

This article draws on fieldwork and interview research undertaken in the Balkans, the Middle East, South Asia, and southern Africa, as well as in Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. A significant proportion of the research has examined how football is used by agencies for conflict resolution and peacemaking; however, this paper also considers the use of other sports for various SDP purposes.3

The article is divided into five main parts. First, I put forward some illustrative SDP activities and projects, highlighting their diverging missions and aims. Second, I set out four main categories of SDP institutions or agencies and consider the ways in which they are interrelated. Third, I outline why the different agencies are attracted to sports as a way to help them accomplish their missions. Fourth, I seek to challenge any tendencies within the SDP sector toward "sport evangelism" by examining sport's complex historical and sociopolitical relationships to violence, conflict, and peace. Finally, I identify some of the key features that are apparent in the more progressive SDP projects.

SDP Projects: Some Examples

It is useful to begin by providing some illustrations of the different types of SDP work that are undertaken. Some examples include:

* The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Match Against Poverty, which is regularly contested by the world's leading football players to raise money for the poor and to promote public awareness of the need to eradicate world poverty.4

* The "Segundo Tempo" project in Brazil, which promotes schooling among hundreds of thousands of poor young people through a mixture of after-hours sport, free meals, and additional school time.5

* The Grassroots Soccer program in Zimbabwe, which promotes HIV/ AIDS education among young people.6

* The work of the Elena NGO in Cameroon, which uses football to promote educational participation, empowerment, and domestic abuse prevention.7

* The UN Mission in Liberia's "Sport for Peace" initiative, which ran for five weeks across 15 counties in 2007.8 The initiative aimed to encourage young people to use sport in order to build peace and promote development in the post-conflict context. Supported by the UN Mission in Liberia, the Liberian government, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and various sport governing bodies and NGOs, the initiative saw sports events and tournaments staged across the country.

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