Last March, an unusual event took place at the University of Illinois. Scholars, students, and practitioners who are interested in using sport to develop communities and promote peace came together to share challenges, frustrations, and successes in a two-day symposium sponsored by the Department of Recreation Sport and Tourism, its Sport & Development Lab, and the Play For Change a student organization.
Funded by the University of Illinois International Programs Office and the College of Applied Health Sciences’ Center for Health, Aging, and Disability, the symposium was the first such forum dedicated to the eld of Sport for Development and Peace (SDP), and attracted participants from the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
Organizer and RST professor Dr. Jon Welty Peachey said the overarching goal of the symposium was to build bridges. “Scholars need to get beyond publishing for ourselves and seek outlets shared by practitioners in this area,” he said. “Those of us who are developing and researching SDP programs need to and creative ways to engage with practitioners and provide reports and deliverables that are meaningful.”
Delivering meaningful deliverables can be complicated by the expectations and demands of partners who fund SDP programs. The difficulty of partnerships was illuminated by the various symposium presenters, who discussed their experiences with institutions, agencies, and organizations in government, education, healthcare, and sports, as well as national, international, and community-based non-governmental organizations.
Hidden and Not-So-Hidden Agendas
In many cases, challenges came in the form of politics. Dr. John Sugden, emeritus professor of the Sociology of Sport at the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom, is widely considered to be the father of the modern SDP movement. He developed a program called Football 4 Peace (F4P) nearly 40 years ago as a tool for peacebuilding and conflict resolution in Northern Ireland. The program uses sport to deliver values-based training aimed at promoting respect, responsibility, inclusion, neutrality, and equality. Since its first administration, F4P has been refined and used within divided communities in Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. In each case, Dr. Sugden sought the support of local governmental agencies to increase the program’s chances of success.
“There’s a lot of baggage that comes with getting in bed with government agencies,” he said. In Israel, for example, tensions arose when the British Council wanted the program, as he put it, to “export British values and culture.” At the same time, the Sports Authority of Israel wanted a stronger voice and more input on the program’s administration. It can be tricky to navigate in waters that have become political, he said, but he cautioned SDP program providers to stay focused on their mission. “Make the most of opportunities without compromising your values,” he said.
A recurring theme of the symposium was the importance of knowing the culture of the community in which the SDP program is offered. Dr. Emma Sherry, an associate professor and deputy chair of Management & Marketing at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, recalled an SDP program in Papua, New Guinea, that had women attending a function at night. “In a country where gender roles are extremely conservative and patriarchal values extremely strong, this actually put them in danger of being assaulted,” she said. “Our best intentions can have unintended consequences. We can’t use our version of what would work. We need to put our own cultural preconceptions aside and respect that local community members know what is best for them.”
Several presenters made the point that while it is difficult to quantify the success of SDP programs, one indication of a job well done is the ability of the local community to take over the running of the program. As Dr. Welty Peachey put it, “Make yourself obsolete. Transfer your skill set to local stakeholders over time, and let them take over monitoring and evaluating the program.” It’s a skill to know how to walk away, added Dr. Sugden. “Know when to do so, yet leave a sustainable program,” he said.