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Ruff guide to Sport and International Development

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Sport is being increasingly recognised for the contribution it can make to development efforts in countries collectively known as the 'Global South' (a term that has replaced the 'developing world' and 'third world'). Previously known as 'developing countries' or 'the third world', the countries of the Global South include many in South America, Asia and Africa. In these contexts, the term 'development' is used to describe work undertaken by a country's indigenous organisations and government to address acute social and economic problems, often supported by external aid from the international community. Currently, much development work is framed by eight 'Millennium Development Goals' (MDGs) namely:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV / AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development.

The target date for meeting these goals is 2015.

Recent international policy initiatives, often led through the United Nations, have sought to emphasise the potential contribution of sport to development efforts and the MDGs (Beutler, 2008). For example, the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace (2003, p5) states that

Well-designed sports programmes are also a cost-effective way to contribute significantly to health, education, development and peace as a powerful medium through which to mobilize societies as well as communicate key messages.

In particular, Coalter (2007, p69) states that the HIV/AIDS pandemic has led to a marked expansion and 'greater coherence' of sport for development work. In the Global South, the main impetus for using sport for development has come from non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Some of these NGOs are indigenous, having been initiated and managed by nationals from individual countries (e.g. EduSport Foundation  and Sport in Action in Zambia, Mathare Youth Sport Association  in Kenya). Others have expanded over time to work in a variety of countries in the Global South (e.g. Right to Play  and SCORE ). These organisations use a variety of approaches to achieve their desired goals, for example:

  • In addressing social issues such as HIV/AIDS or gender inequality, sport-for-development NGOs in Africa have used traditional movement games (Kakuwa, 2005), role playing, puppetry and innovative games such as Kicking AIDS Out (Mwaanga, 2002) and Dunking AIDS Out activities (Banda and Mwaanga, 2008).


  • The use of youth peer leaders or peer coaches both to deliver sporting activities and as an effective way to achieve development outcomes is advocated by a number of sport-for-development organisations. The concept of peer coaches initially derived from peer education approaches which are a commonly used worldwide to address sexual health issues. Utilising youth peer leaders enables the creation of a participatory environment that empowers young people in decision making related to social issues affecting them.


  • Organisations in the Global South have used sports-led interventions to empowering women to become leaders and social activists in their communities. For example, in India, the GOAL project uses netball as a medium through which young women aged 13-19 can be reached, with the focus on sustained, intense support and education with relatively small, close-knit groups of young women.


  • Sport has been use to promote reconciliation and peace in areas of political and military conflict. Among such interventions, Kidd & Donnelly (2007, p161) highlight the range of programmes from 'the educational exchange programs conducted for Jewish and Arab children in Israel by groups such as Football 4 Peace, to the coaching development programs conducted by Right To Play in refugee camps in Africa, the Middle East and Asia'.


Increasingly, sporting organisations in the Global North have begun to support efforts to use sport for development. With the 2012 Olympics as something of a catalyst, UK Sport has initiated programmes such as International Inspirations  that aim to enhance sport development in the Global South through the provision of human resources and expertise as well as financial support. International forums that bring together different organisations involved in sport for development have also been established (see for example, International Platform for Sport and Development  and Kicking AIDS Out Network ). On this wider international scale, it is important to recognise that development is a politically complex and sensitive area. Aid provided by richer countries may not solely be a form of benevolence but can also be a mechanism through which the countries of the Global North promote their political interests and maintain stability in world regions. Complex power relations therefore underlie international development initiatives and it is helpful to understand that 'aid' can be regarded as a form of interference, control and cultural imperialism.

The rapidly expanding use of sport as a tool for development has been accompanied by growing academic interest and research on the topic. Most academic researchers are cautious about over-claiming the potential impact of sport alone, but also recognise its value as policy tool which complements other strategies. Among the growing available literature, Kidd and Donnelly's (2007) collection of literature reviews on sport for development and peace is especially valuable and provides many links to further sources. Other studies include those which adopt an international perspective (for example Levermore, 2008 & Kidd, 2008); those which provide largely descriptive case studies of the operation of specific programmes or organisations (e.g. Cole, 2006 & Peacock-Villada, DeCelles & Banda, 2007); and reports of research undertaken in specific countries or on specific programmes (Banda, Lindsey, Jeanes & Kay, 2008; Kay, 2009; Kruse, 200



Banda, D., Lindsey, I., Jeanes, R and Kay T (2008)  Partnerships involving sports-for-development NGOs and the fight against HIV / AIDS. York St John University, York

Banda, D and Mwaanga, O. (2008) Dunking AIDS Out: Learning About AIDS Through Basketball Movement Games

Coalter, F (2007) A Wider Social Role for Sport: Who's Keeping the Score? Routledge

Cole, C.L. (2006) Grassroots Soccer. Journal of Sport and Social Issues. Vol. 30, No. 3, pp227-278.

Kakuwa, M. (2005) Zambian Traditional Games & Activities. A Kicking AIDS Out Resource

Kay, T. A. (2009) Developing through sport: Evidencing sports impacts on young people; paper to the International Studies Association Conference, New York

Kidd, B (2008) A new social movement: Sport for Development and peace.  Sport in Society Vol 11, No4: 370-380

Kidd, B. and Donnelly, P.  (2007) Literature reviews on sport for development and peace,  Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group, T

Kruse, S.E., (2006) Review of Kicking AIDS Out: Is Sport an Effective Tool in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS? Available at:

Levermore, R (2008) Sport: a new engine of development    Progress in Development Studies 8, 2: 183-90

Mwaanga, O. (2002) Manual for HIV/AIDS Education through Movement Games and Sport Activities, NORAD, Oslo

Sugden, J. (2006) Teaching and Playing Sport for Conflict Resolution and Co-existence in Israel. International Review for the Sociology of Sport. Vol. 41, No. 2, pp 221-240.

United Nations (2003) Sport for Development and Peace: Towards Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, Report from the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace, Geneva, United Nations.

We are grateful to the following academics for the provision of this Ruff guide to Sport and Development;

Dr. Iain Lindsey [Southampton], Davies Banda [York] with Tess Kay [Loughborough].


Last Updated on Thursday, 03 September 2009 07:54  

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