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How can sport better serve society in times of crisis? Five key takeaways from a panel discussion organised by sportanddev and ISCA

The world faces a range of intersecting crises, including escalating conflicts, climate change, a cost-of-living crisis, and recovery from Covid-19. At the MOVE Congress on 16 November, sportanddev organised a panel discussion on how sport can respond, in partnership with the conference organiser, the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA). 

The discussion was moderated by David Given-Sjölander, founder and strategic advisor at GS Consultancy. He was joined by three panellists, Haneen Khatib (sport for development consultant – sportanddev/GIZ), Etsuko Yamada (Japan Sport Council) and Ben Sanders (sportanddev). The panel took a “fishbowl approach,” with two unassigned chairs allowing audience members to join the panel at any time.

Here are five key takeaways from an engaging discussion.

1. Recognise the limitations of sport and prioritise doing no harm
Sport can have a positive impact, but not always. It can contribute to the inclusion of refugees, social cohesion, bringing people together and other positive outcomes. However, it can also be used to promote division and it can be exclusionary rather than inclusive. Extremists sometimes use it to recruit and promote polarisation. There are issues with greenwashing in high-level sport. Efforts to ensure sport has a positive impact and avoid causing more harm than good is particularly important during crises.

Ben Sanders: “We need to be critical because we care. Sport needs to do better. We need to speak truth to power to ensure sport better serves everyone.” 

2. Properly design, deliver, monitor and evaluate
The key to sport having a positive impact is ensuring that design, delivery, monitoring and evaluation are carefully planned. Creating safe spaces is crucial, and this can have a major impact on refugees and others affected by crises. Adding non-sports components to projects is also essential; for example, psychosocial support can be important when working with refugees. When carried out effectively, sports programmes can create an identity for young people and provide them with the tools to become successful citizens.

Etsuko Yamada: “Ad hoc interventions don’t work effectively. We need to stop and consider the approach, and a needs assessment is essential.”

3. Prioritise the needs of communities
It’s also important work closely with communities affected by crises. Project participants understand their situation better than anyone else. Prioritising their needs and views is more important than sticking to a rigid plan. Sometimes you have a plan and it doesn’t work out, and it’s especially difficult to follow a plan during crises. Everyone wants hope and to lead good lives. If you invest in people, they can be the drivers of their own change.

Haneen Khatib: “Changes happen and you need to adapt. The needs of the community and being there are essential.” 

4. Climate change is a social justice issue
We need to take a social justice approach to addressing climate change through sport. Most emissions are produced in the Global North, yet the Global South is suffering the most severe consequences. Elite sport causes far more emissions than grassroots sport. We have to change the systems, processes and vested interests that control sport and society.

Ben Sanders: “Climate change is the biggest game of our lives. We’re losing, and we’re losing badly.” 

5. We need to define what a crisis is and which ones to focus on
Gender-based violence is a huge problem worldwide but doesn’t get labelled as a crisis. One can also argue that sport itself is in crisis, with many issues including human rights violations, the impact of major tournaments on the climate and doping scandals. More attention is given to some crises than others, and it is often harder to get funding for crises that are not getting as much attention. Issues such as climate change, conflict, gender-based violence and forced displacement are protracted crises rather than individual events.

Isaiah Kioiloglou from the International Olympic Truce Centre joined the panel for part of the discussion and pointed out that “thirty percent of women worldwide experience abuse. Can sport also give visibility to crises that are not trending?”

The organisers of the panel discussion would like to thank everyone who attended and helped to organise the session. That includes representatives of GAME Lebanon, Yoga and Sport with Refugees, and the International Olympic Truce Centre, who joined the panel from the audience at various points in the discussion.
By Paul Hunt, sportanddev
Photos: Damien Feron and Rachel Payne
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