Sports & Development: Mirroring the Contradiction in our Society

A guest post by Georgiana Epure @GeorgianaEpure, Live from the Doha Goals Forum Qatar 3-5 November 2014.

Excitement, happiness, hope – that’s what we all experience when we’re practicing sport. At least, that’s what I’ve been feeling for 6 years playing volleyball in a tiny gym from Sibiu, Romania – yet an incredibly overwhelming place during the matches. Beyond these intense but passing feelings, sport has this unique capacity of bringing people closer, building peace and resilience among different groups over and above ethnicity, race or gender.

Yes, sport is amazingly powerful! It can advance gender equality, improve physical and mental health – it even plays a part in battling the spread of Ebola in places like Liberia – promote respect and dialogue, and enhance life skills of children and youth. Sport is about inclusion. Sport is that universal language that we all want to know – that of fair play.

It allows us to experience a unique satisfaction and sense of achievement – and one doesn’t have to be on the winner’s side to feel as such! It’s all about empowerment, knowing that you’re trying, you’re following the rules, and you’re having fun!

More importantly, sport is a fundamental right. The right to play and sport participation has been recognised as a “fundamental right for all” (1978, UNESCO). NGOs with their practical initiatives such as Play Football Malawi make this ideal (as this right is often ignored or disrespected) come closer to become reality.

unnamedWhat values do mega-sport events promote outside the court lines?

Since the old Greek Olympic Games, sport has become a cultural phenomenon, and like any other cultural phenomena, it mirrors the contrasting aspects of the society we’re living in: advancing cooperation vs. violence, fair-play vs. corruption, fraud or doping, tolerance vs. discrimination, hooliganism or nationalism.

In the 21st century, development through sport often goes beyond the court lines, and too often it doesn’t reflect those values that it promotes in the court!

Investing in sports infrastructure enhances urban renewal. One doesn’t have to be an expert to notice how big sports events, such as the Olympic Games or FIFA World Cup, develop transportation networks, urban facilities and employability. However, the long-term results of these works are often shadowed by human rights violations, workers’ exploitation and massive corruption.

Let’s just take two recent examples:

The FIFA World Cup held in Brasil this year was marked by huge protests against the massive spending of public money for hosting the event, child prostitution, and the bulldozing of favelas, the Brazilian slum neighborhoods. How far are we ready to go for organising such spectacles?

Also, building the winter capital for the Winter Olympic Games, Sochi, meant devastating local residents’ houses, harming the environment through massive garbage dumps, $25 billion lost to corruption, and $8.7 billion spent on the transportation system to the mountains – which some say that could have been paved with a nice layer of Louis Vuitton bags for the same price. More? Sochi will also host the 2018 FIFA World Cup and it’s already surrounded with controversies about racism.

Yes, sport has a genuine power to mobilize and inspire communities, but as these two recent controversies have reminded us, we need more transparency and accountability in the staging of large-scale multi-billion dollar exhibitions. Where are the values promoted on the playing fields when planning and organising these events?


georgiana epureGeorgiana Epure is a student at the University of Leeds, UK and Student Ambassador at Doha Forum Goals alongside 9 other Aspire Academy Alumni. The Doha Goals Forum is the world’s premier platform for world leaders to create initiatives for global progress through sport. Each year, global leaders gather in Doha with top stakeholders – CEOs, government officials, athletes, NGOs, federation heads, urban developers, coaches, managers, and medical experts – to create partnerships and initiatives to tackle the most pressing social issues enabling constructive brainstorming and focused collaboration.



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