Nelson Mandela, the first Patron of Laureus Sport for Good, used those words back in 2000, and in every sense they ring true today: from major sporting events which support good causes, right through to the unity demonstrated in the sports stadia of the world after the deadly attacks in Paris in late 2015 and Brussels in March.
Over the last 30 years, we have seen the number of large sporting events increase from a few hundred to several thousand per year. One of the most important benefits derived from these events, whether it’s the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup or the Commonwealth Games, is ‘nation building’.
Countries and cities now bid to host events which will not only build their country politically and economically, but socially as well. Sport is the great equaliser. Sport is the great galvanizer. Sport brings nations together, sees communities rise and ultimately is a powerful force for long term national development.
In many ways, this is why we are seeing nations like Azerbaijan host the European Games and the Olympics heading to Brazil. The ripple effect of sports can be seen for years after an event and the influx of resources can give impetus to drive significant change.
Change through sport has a deeper, granular, effect and countries are only just beginning to understand that sport as a development tool can ‘nation build’ at a much deeper level - at its roots, through its people. While major sporting events drive macro-change, sport for development provides the complementary micro-change that is going to prepare future generations to make their countries better.
Government-funded sport for development is not common, however we are slowly starting to see a shift. Often nations are willing to tackle issues like obesity through the promotion of sport; their premise is that an active citizen is a healthy citizen. The difference between sport for participation and sport for development is not much. In fact, they are virtually the same, with the benefits of sport for development lasting far longer than simple regular activity.
One of the most fundamental shifts of late has been Sport England’s commitment to ‘A Sporting Future’. This new strategy for an active nation includes social and community development, mental wellbeing and economic development, instead of simply physical development. Innovative approaches such as this could totally change how sport is viewed.
Sport for development is happening on the ground and in the front line in marginalised communities and now also from major sporting organisations choosing to champion it as a tool for change. The Baku European Games developed some of Azerbaijan’s first ever sport for development work. That trend continued when the Rugby World Cup followed suit in England and Wales last autumn with their Tackle Hunger campaign.
Sport is a nation builder. It has built nations for centuries and has done so at a high level. Now, thanks to trailblazing from organisations like the Commonwealth Games Federation, who launched their Glasgow Games with a precedent-setting campaign for UNICEF, sport and sporting bodies are using their power to drive a development agenda rooted deeply in building a nation’s most important asset: its people.
Sport as a tool for nation building is undergoing an important evolution which has the ability to influence people that have previously been neglected.
Sport really does have the power to change the world.