The Future of Sport for Development and Peace: Perspectives from a Youth Sport Leader

Warren Lucas, 09 December 2020

The intersection of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the COVID-19 pandemic has represented a fundamental change in the way we live, work and relate to one another. It is a new chapter in human development as we strive for connection with each other in a socially distant context. How bizarre.

The 4IR enables us to mimic close-to-normal activity in a new-normal world by enjoying time online, learning, working, attending class, and participating in sport via extraordinary technological advances. These advances are merging the physical, digital and biological worlds in ways that create huge promise and potential peril. The 4IR is about more than just technology-driven change; it presents us with an opportunity to help our peers, neighbours, communities and cities, which include leaders, policy-makers and people from all income groups and nations, to harness converging technologies in order to create an inclusive, human-centred future. 

While sport for development and peace (SDP) may not provide conclusive solutions for all social problems, it certainly presents us with opportunities to use sport for development practices in more savvy ways, to bring about positive change that may result in resolution, peace, and resilience among people and communities. One aspect that cannot be left unmentioned is the increase of youth leadership presence in the sport, development and peace sector.

One important emergence has been the revolutionizing of the sport, fitness and coaching industry through the use of technology during the pandemic. Access to the worldwide web posits many benefits that may help us to reach more people in our endeavour to develop sport and develop people through sport. The use of technology has presented opportunities that far outweigh perceived consequences. Many youths have identified employment opportunities through content creation, webinar hosting, podcasting, website management, social media management and app development. 

As reintegration takes place during specific social and economic restrictions, many people have had legitimate reservations for resuming regular sport and physical activity as the rise in COVID-19 cases continues to steadily increase. As a result of this, the opportunity for sport service expansion has presented itself in that sports clubs have opted to offer both face-to-face and online sport and recreation services in order to continue sport service delivery and sport sustainability.

Sport, as an activity and pastime, enables the facilitation of important life-skills that empower, fulfil and unite youth in a way that little else does. In quite an unexpected way, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed positively towards encouraging youth to expand their entrepreneurial efforts, utilize technology, and create innovative ways for the delivery of sport and recreation. 

Progression in this sector has not been without contention. We, as the SDP community, still have objectives to achieve in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The question is, how does the 4IR and increased youth presence in the SDP sector further promote sport as a vehicle for empowerment and youth-strengthening, equality and wellness? 

SDG Goal 3: Good Health and Well Being

The safe spaces sport facilities provided for youth and other community members have been closed as a result of lockdown, leaving people without a place to take refuge and recreate, essential for healing, trauma management, and recovery. The unfortunate occurrence of being unable to meet World Health Organisation guidelines to meet daily physical activity may place people at an increased risk for non-communicable diseases, and thus compromising health. 

Additionally, the social wellness aspect of sport and recreation now takes a backseat as social distancing becomes more important. Sport may never recover in under-resourced countries, such as South Africa, as there are many sport-codes with limited reserves, which may lead to their closing down during lockdown. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the importance of sport and physical activity in its potential to boost the immune system and promote the physiological development of young people. COVID-19 has forced sport leaders to be more vocal regarding the importance of sport and recreation as tools for development to maintain health and wellbeing for all members of society. 

The pandemic has provided a period for introspection, regrouping and repositioning of sport to further support communities and participants. With respect to youth development, sport can be used to develop youth, and not just the sport itself. An opportunity to use sport to develop both physical and mental health among youth exists, as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on increased reports of anxiety and depression due to social distancing and limited movement ability. The availability of technological resources may assist in managing these uncertainties.

SDG 4: Quality Education

The unfortunate social and economic imbalance have left behind those who do not have, to be further destitute and forgotten as the world moves forward with technological interventions for delivering sport and educational services. Due to this economic imbalance, neither sport nor education as services can be delivered to all members of the community. 

Limited resources are valid challenges to any industry, so we have an opportunity to re-shift the focus of investments and financial reserves, so that physical activity, physical education and schooling can be delivered, appropriately. Providing further knowledge development during a unique “time-out” period like the COVID-19 lockdown, is an opportunity to upskill youth and adult populations without major obstacles. 

This period has seen increases in new registrations for Masters courses to continued education and training in a myriad of short courses, as people are using this time to learn and increase their skill sets. In reflection, big corporates and government departments may need to rethink their strategies in achieving sport and education outcomes. Technology, and the access to it has enabled many individuals to utilize their lockdown effectively through learning, education and training. 

The rerouting of specific funding resources toward the creation of data-free websites and learning platforms presents an opportunity for industry leaders to direct efforts for the upliftment of the community. Teaming up with sport federations, sport brands and educational institutions may provide expanded networks and partnerships which may effectively contribute to the provision of quality education, specifically in sport and recreation. As leaders in this field, we can do more to collaborate and bring about effective change in achieving SDG 4.

If clubs and sport centres are adequately equipped, they may be able to provide more sport-based services to people from all over South Africa. The use of sport management and sport marketing skills may definitely assist with the delivery of well-rounded fitness and sport products and services which essentially assist in the attainment of sport development objectives. 

Using platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, BlueJeans and Skype has presented a golden opportunity to mobilize health and fitness, and a new way of staying connected through health and sport. We are currently witnessing the dawning of an entirely new community of people in sport and fitness, powered through the advances of the fourth industrial revolution. 

We need to pay close attention to the inequalities, inequities and inaccessibility that exists. The future of sport for development and peace is at risk for imbalance unless we find pathways for access to technological and internet resources for all. The future of sport for development and peace is a bright one, but in order for us to look forward to the future, we cannot ignore the legacies of our country’s past. While we capitalize on the advances of technology, let us not forget that more can be done to afford technological opportunities to those who are currently without.