Sport Matters. Sport is the modern world’s religion and war; athletes are our saints, sinners, heroes, and villains, contests are the parables from which we learn of morality and justice, and stadiums are the places of worship and battlefields. There are undeniable parallels between sport, religion, and war. They are conduits for the expression of identity and purpose; for those—individuals and states alike—who do not possess the leverage or access to speak on a larger stage, sports are a means through which the world may be given rhyme and reason.
For East Asia scholar, Victor Cha, “sport acts as a prism through which national identity gets refracted domestically and internationally. […] Sport has been used as a critical instrument for building identity and for nation building.”[i] Sports—and more specifically the Olympics—are a means through which forgotten nations and people may be heard; they are a forum through which a country or person may express a new identity, or exercise its belief in a changing world order.
Whether one is heard or not, sports historian Pierre Arnaud’s following assertion holds true regarding the influence and reach of international sports:
Whether one is impassioned or not about sport, actor or spectator, everyone comments on the results of international sports competitions, has something to say about them – whether England should have met Germany at football on the eve of the Second World War, whether democracies should have sent their national teams to the Berlin Olympics, or, finally, whether sport and athletes should be ‘above politics’, ignoring political tensions between states.[ii]
The narratives covering the successes of Olympians, elite national teams, and (seemingly) perennial underdogs have been well documented. From the miracle on ice to ping pong diplomacy, we’ve been left to believe that sports may have the tectonic power to change the world order. And, if Joseph Schooling can beat his childhood hero, if a group of refugees can celebrate a new form of unity, or if Rafaela Silva can rise from a Brazilian favela and win gold, then we’re left to believe that perhaps we, or our children, can achieve great things in sport and life too.
I’m not here to document and discuss those stories, though. I’m here to discuss the change that happens with less fanfare, PR, and recognition. While I will discuss my current role in greater detail next time, I am currently working in sports-for-development through the CTC Ten Foundation (ctcten.org) as a Program Design Fellow with AMANDLA Edufootball (edufootball.org) in Cape Town, South Africa. I am supporting an effort to use sports as a means of teaching children from the townships life skills, providing them with job skills, and developing a sense of belief and perseverance in them.
That is the story I hope to tell. Not one of glorifying kids’ struggles, or one of the altruism of our work, but regarding the ways in which sports can do more than just motivate people and countries. Through a mixture of stories, informal interviews, researched conversations, and any other means that I see fit, I hope to use the next year to familiarize you with what we’re doing, what the field is doing, who we are, and why we’re out here.
Next time, I’ll dive more deeply into my experience, my current role, and my belief and passion in the potential for sports to change lives for the better.
[i] Victor Cha, Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 33.
[ii] Pierre Arnaud, “Sport – A Means of National Representation,” in Sport and International Politics: The Impact of Fascism and Communism on Sport, eds. Pierre Arnaud and James Riordan, (London: E & FN Spon, 1998), 5.