I first dipped my toe in the international development sector with an AusAID-funded assignment working at Samoa's South Pacific Games Authority. Many of my peers expressed disappointment that aid money was being extended to sport. I felt I had to defend it. Yes. Sport is good for development and a worthy aid investment.
Here are 4 important ways that sport contributes to positive social impact.
Diverse groups play sport. This includes children with disability, including both children with learning difficulties and physical disabilities. Sport builds confidence and provides visible examples to the community of the value people with disability can contribute. For example, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has never won a gold medal at the Olympics. But in 2019 at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, more than one PNG athlete brought home gold, flying the flag for PNG on the world stage.
2. Economic contributions
In home countries, experiencing poverty of opportunity, talented athletes may not be able to find paid work. However, they can play internationally and be paid. For example, many Pacific Island players are picked up and contracted to international teams. These players earn lucrative salaries and contribute overseas remittances to their families back home. In many cases, remittances are spent on school fees, health expenses, shelter upgrades, small business expenses, and family food.
Obesity is a global epidemic. Non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancers are endemic in many part of the world including developed and developing countries. Encouraging sport and an active lifestyle is one part of the puzzle to address obesity and the related health impacts. Involvement in sport at school can prevent childhood obesity.
4. Sport diplomacy
Sport unifies people of different beliefs, opinions and cultures, in a similar way that music does. Politicians with very different viewpoints can happily sit shoulder-to-shoulder as spectators of sport. Sports stars can be useful global representatives. Much like a celebrity endorsement in marketing, sports stars can lend their credibility to their country and support the formation of bilateral ties for trade. By leveraging sporting capacity, a country can boost their reputation globally and build enduring transnational relationships. Strong relationships can lead to greater sharing of knowledge and resources.