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Taking Part Counts: How Sport Boosts Development and Business

Sport, particularly football, can help promote reconciliation, empower women and generate revenue in developing countries. All these benefits and the increasingly globalised nature of sport were discussed at a workshop held at LIDC on 8 June.  The speakers largely concentrated on men’s and women’s football in South Africa – the host country of next year’s football World Cup.

An empowering game
Kehinde Adeogun and Taiwo Adeogun, both students at London Metropolitan University
, emphasised how football is empowering women and promoting racial and tribal understanding. They showed their short film featuring interviews with members of the South African Women’s football team. The footage, taken during the Eight Nations Cyprus Cup in March this year, focuses on the team and The Academy – the training centre for the South African women’s football team, also known as Banyana, Banyana (The Girls, The Girls).  The team’s strength and the diversity of its players (from a country with 11 tribes and nine national languages) is a testament to the inclusive approach of its founder Fran Hilton-Smith. The girls and young women are also educated at The Academy and given opportunities to work with the team as coaches and managers once their playing days are over. The Academy is funded by Lotto, South Africa’s  National Lottery, and the team has secured a lucrative 40 million rand (£3m) deal with the chemical and fuel company Sasol.

Liz Ford, editor of the Katine website (The Guardian's three-year development project in Uganda), also spoke about using football to promote understanding and reconciliation. The Guardian is staging a football tournament in Katine to bring communities together, instil pride, revitalise sport, and rebuild trust in an area previously attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Football pitches are being redeveloped and the Barclays Premier League trophy has toured the sub-country as part of the high-profile initiative. Ford described how orphans and street children are taking part in the local competition and how many of the youngsters aspire to play in the Premier League, rather than for a Ugandan team.

The business of sport
Sean Hamil
, of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, focussed on elite football as he explored the global and business dimensions of the game, including the migration of players from Africa to Europe and their frequent abandonment if they fail to make the best teams.  He showed how the Premier Soccer League (PSL) in South Africa is the most successful league in Africa, one of the  most lucrative in the world , and is capable of hosting large sporting events – a factor behind the decision to host the World Cup in the country. However, Hamil also explained how the trappings of elite football, including commercial sponsorship and media interest, do not necessarily translate into success for the national level, especially if the game’s grassroots are neglected, as some critics argue is the case in South Africa.  Hamil also emphasised the connections between sport and development by saying that sustaining an elite league requires a sufficient level of social and economic development. He said: “You can use well-organised sport events to drive development. There is a tendency to underestimate the impact of sport.”

Benefits of exercise
Dr Alan Dangour
, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), emphasised how exercise may be a cost effective way of maintaining health and function in older people – a growing concern as the world’s population ages rapidly. Dangour presented preliminary findings from a cost-effectiveness evaluation of a nutritional supplementation and exercise programme delivered to older people living in low-middle income parts of Santiago, Chile. Twice weekly group exercise classes provided for two years to people aged 65-68 years appeared to enhance walking speed and the ability to carry out simple tasks in those who attended. Dangour said the classes, priced at US $2.50 per person, were “very cheap” and that identifying simple interventions that could maintain the health of older people is “crucial.” He emphasised that classes may not just benefit physical performance, but may also improve mental health and provide an opportunity for people to socialise.
By Guy Collender, Communications Officer, LIDC