by Jennifer McArdle
Sport and International Development
Edited by Roger Levermore and Aaron Beacom
New York: Palgrave Macmillan
As an emerging field of research and study, sport-in-development is progressively carving out its own space in the international development discourse. Many authors recognize sport for its ability to contribute to economic development, as well as human and social goals like health, gender equality, social capital, conflict resolution, and communication, as this volume attests. By its very nature, team sport is about inclusion and bringing people together. Additionally, sport provides a forum for encouraging “discipline, confidence, and leadership, and it teaches core principles such as tolerance, cooperation and respect.” Sport has emotional and physical benefits for participants and involved communities. In other words, sport promotes healthy minds and bodies and moreover, can be a conduit for broader social change and development.
Sport-in-development initiatives have dissenters, however, and there are conspicuous drawbacks to using sport as a tool for change. These criticisms are discussed most thoroughly in Roger Levermore’s chapter. Two broad criticisms are the perpetuation of cultural and economic imperialism on the part of the Global North through sport and the feminist criticism that sport can be exclusive, as it is typically dominated by healthy, young males. Given these issues, the preface of Sport and International Development points out that, “it is widely recognized that more needs to be done to understand…the impact that sport can have.” The book then tries to answer this call. This ambitious collection offers eleven essays, both theoretical and case-studies, that highlight some of the most important issues and themes emerging from the sport and development conversation. The included essays particularly examine, “the different levels at which sport intersects with development” and “sport as an agent that is potentially able to influence the process of social change.”
With the exception of Jerry Bingham of UK Sport and Lorna Read of Right to Play, who write the Preface, all of the contributors to the book are academics. Most of the authors focus their research on Africa. The book, thus, mostly uses Africa as its geographic reference, although the themes and lessons are designed to be applicable to other parts of the Global South. Additionally, the editors recognize the need to widen the conversation to include more geographic locations, as well as more sports, including indigenous sports.
A major thread of the book is the importance of understanding the goals and motivations of various stakeholders, and there is a wide range of actors engaged in sport-in-development. These actors include international organizations like the UN Sport for Development and Peace; national governments; international sports governing bodies like FIFA; sports leagues and clubs; international and local non-governmental organizations like Play Soccer, Right to Play, and Ntambag Brothers Association in Cameroon; and multinational corporations like Nike and Adidas. The specific motivations and contexts of each of these actors inform the sort of sport-in-development programs they operate.
For example, through the book, the contributing authors make the distinction between “sport plus” and “plus sports” organizations. “Sport plus” organizations are those that primarily focus on developing sustainable sports programs, but that also employ sports to address broader social issues. “Plus sport” programs “give primacy to social and health programmes,” but use the power of sport to engage people to meet objectives. The different missions of these undertakings affect their beneficiaries, project implementers, and their outcomes and evaluations.
The broad definitions of “sport” and “development” means that the types of issues raised in a discussion on sport-in-development are diverse and varied. The authors in this book highlight some of the most important themes. For example, Saavedra and Beacom address the question of who is left out of sport-in-development initiatives, and the potential for sport-in-development to benefit “marginal” populations. Beacom focuses on the disabled; Saavedra focuses on women and girls.
As mentioned above, one of the critiques of using sport for development is that sport is a traditionally male-dominated sphere. In her chapter, Saavedra argues that “seeking to empower females through sport is somewhat paradoxical given that the world of sport can be a bastion for male privilege and power.” She discusses the historical context for girls in sport, as well as some of the challenges that face girls specifically. Yet girls can flourish under this model. Saavedra profiles Moving the Goalposts, a soccer program operating in Kenya, as a case study for how sport-in-development programs can successfully navigate the intersection of gender, sport, and development.
Another major theme of this book is the urgent need for more study of evaluating and measuring the impact that sport has on development. Coalter’s chapter is most prominent in discussing this theme, but it is nevertheless echoed by most of the other contributors. Coalter writes of some of the challenges of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in sport-in-development initiatives: hard to measure outcomes like change in attitudes and empowerment, limited resources and personnel, absence of base-line data, and the difficulty in addressing why programs were or were not successful. To address these, Coalter calls for a process-led participatory approach to evaluation in which there is as much focus on “how projects are conceptualized and delivered” as program outcomes.
Other authors address sport-in-development M&E. Cornelissen encourages the sport-in-development community to take a more inclusive approach when evaluating the impact that major sporting events have on local communities and populations. Crabbe uses the example of Positive Futures in the UK to demonstrate how sport-in-development initiatives can engage hard-to-reach young people, while arguing that indicators that focus solely on “outcome” and “impact” neglect the benefits that such projects have on engagement, relationship building, and social development.
Also of import is the way projects are implemented, and by whom. Nicholls recognizes the invaluable contribution of young peer educators in sport-in-development programs, and highlights the need to include their voices in project design and evaluation. Fokwang takes issue with the traditional ideas of “development” that have included transfers of capital and knowledge from the Global North to the Global South. He posits that indigenous organizations are uniquely situated to establish their own agenda, respond to the needs of their community, and empower their own members. Akindes and Kirwin pick up this thread. They explore the way that the sport-in-development paradigm is influenced by international aid and funding fluctuations, as well as the limitations placed upon the field by the multitude of actors that tend to focus primarily on elite players. They argue in favor of a participatory, more inclusive, approach to sport-in-development.
Despite its scope, the book does not exhaust the issues that are relevant when studying sport-in-development. First, as mentioned earlier, the book focuses nearly exclusively on Africa and soccer. It could have benefited from an examination of sport-in-development initiatives on other continents, and programs that are using various sports. How can programs adapt to diverse environments and cultural contexts? Second, more discussion needs to revolve around the relationship between sport-in-development programs and other, more traditional, routes of development, as well as how to engage all actors and stakeholders (NGOs, national governments, international governing bodies, MNCs, communities, sports leagues, project recipients, and donors). What should be the ideal relationship between the Global North and South in sport-in-development? Third, while the book mentioned its potential, there is minimal discussion of how sport could be used for conflict resolution and peace building. Are there other, untapped, avenues for sport-in-development?
Nevertheless, Sport and International Development provides a solid foundation, and it is a useful tool. Levermore and Beacom are successful in pulling together sport-in-development theorists and practitioners from around the world to situate sport in the larger development discourse. The collection addresses the contentious issues in the field today and offers answers to how sport can be a contributor to meaningful social change in the developing world. Because of this, the book is helpful, both to academics and practitioners, in helping to frame the way we think about sport-in-development programs through a variety of lenses.