Grant Jarvie: We have sporting chance of a better world

Nelson Mandela told us 'sport can create hope where once there was only despair'. Picture: Getty
Nelson Mandela told us 'sport can create hope where once there was only despair'. Picture: Getty
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EDINBURGH University is taking up Nelson Mandela’s challenge to use sport to unite nations, writes Grant Jarvie

Nelson Mandela’s grandson Ndaba joined senior leaders and youth leaders earlier this month to recognise the growing role of sport in addressing peace and development.

It was his grandfather who told us “sport can create hope where once there was only despair”.

The World Sports Values Summit for Peace and Development, held in Cape Town during the first week of November, was supported by Edinburgh University’s Academy of Sport.

In helping to host this summit, the Academy aimed to further the part sport can play as a resource of hope, influence and the fostering of international cultural relations.

Three Edinburgh University students – Chloe McLean, Michael Crawley, and Johnny Ross-Tatum – joined international youth leaders such as Ashley Johnson, who uses basketball to bring Palestinian and Israeli women together; and Adam Fine, founder of Fives Futbol, who has helped create jobs through football in some of Cape Town’s most challenging suburbs.

Other youth leaders included Karette Wang Sandbu, special adviser to Innovation Norway and the Youth and Sport for All Commission, and Hector Mackie, who has run campaigns to fight racism in football.

Given the issues of governance facing international sport it was timely that one of the three summit themes was global sports governance. Lord Moynihan, who has led the governance and sport motion in the House of Lords, international sports lawyer David Becker and Lyndon Barends, former CEO of the National Olympic Committee for South Africa, all called for sport not to be above the law.

Lukas Radebe, former Leeds United player and captain of Bafana Bafana, talked about his work with children in South Africa and his own journey through sport from a Soweto township to the heights of international football.

More importantly, he grasped the importance of not only giving back to one’s own community, but also that human capabilities could be further developed through grassroot sport initiatives in South Africa’s poorer communities.

Two South African professors, Cora Burnett and Marion Klein, reminded the summit of the need for evidence to convince governments sport is not a one-size fits all solution to the world’s problems. Carefully crafted interventions based upon what works, where and when and under what circumstances, need to be more fully understood.

The toolbox sport can offer those working in both conflict and post-­conflict situations is beginning to be realised by international governments, if not national sport bodies.

Earlier, on 20 October, the United Nations General Assembly had placed sport firmly within the new sustainable development goals by supporting the possibility that crafted and informed interventions involving sport have a part to play in fostering development and conflict resolution.

Asking what contribution sport can make to sustainable development during the next 15 years has recently led the Commonwealth Advisory Board for Sport – CABOS – to call for new approaches to sport for development, a firm commitment to engaging and involving “those left behind” and to getting sport’s own house in order.

At the end of this month the eighth International Peace Through Sport forum will be held, providing a further opportunity to showcase and examine the increasingly visible role that sport has to play in peace, international development and relations.

If the evidence from the input from the youth leaders present in Cape Town, is anything to go by, young people are increasingly embracing sport as a tool to help reach personal, community, national and international development objectives, as well as address some of the challenges that arise from humanitarian crises in both conflict and post conflict situations.

Scotland has much to offer, but also learn from the international intervention that is sport.

At the University of Edinburgh, we are developing ways to contribute not just to the debate, and evidence about the national and international role of sport, with our partners we are also putting into practice the knowledge – we have the tools to help people and communities effect change through sport.

It was really pleasing to meet two young footballers from one of the local townships near Cape Town who had taken Football: More than a Game, the free online football course provided by Edinburgh.

Education through sport is but one of many ways to make a difference today, but least we forget it was Nelson Mandela who reminded us that sport has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.

In a tense and troubled world we cannot afford to ignore anything that can be part of an aspiration to build a ­better world.

• Grant Jarvie is Professor and Director of the Academy of Sport at the University of Edinburgh.