There’s an iconic quote by Nelson Mandela that’s stuck with us at Gap Africa Projects: “Sport has the power to change the world.” It’s a statement that made people stop and think. Sport has a universal appeal, is often easily accessible to all regardless of their age. As a result it can be harnessed as a force for good – particularly in developing countries – by charities and developmental programs.
Power to Inspire
Team games such as football, netball or even rugby can serve as a catalyst for education, build stronger communities and unify groups. When discussing the positive impact of this type of activity, Mandela goes on to say that sport can be more powerful than the government at times at breaking down barriers. Not only can it give spectators hope and motivation as a participator, it can also develop skills which can be transferred to other aspects of their lives.
Power to Unite
Mandela was known to use sport as a tool to unite and even redefine his country’s image. Using this strategy on a smaller scale, sport has been shown to deliver positive results, uniting communities over one common goal.
From an aid point of view, sport offers a low cost, high reward option that immediately integrates into the community. In Africa for example, where football is hugely popular, just setting up a training camp or tournament is enough to increase community engagement and kickstart important dialogues. Furthermore, sport promotes confidence, forms friendships and often leads to better health and self-esteem; all of which helps to keep members of struggling communities away from more harmful activities like drugs and crime.
Looking beyond those actually playing sports at grassroots level, there’s also evidence that sport – and sporting events – are good for the community as a whole. Locals coming together at matches and supporting their local team grows the community, and expands the sense of belonging beyond the playing field, not to mention showcasing the positive outcomes of teamwork and closer relationships. What’s more, when one team plays another, they bring their own separate community with them. This blending of societies who may not otherwise have had any contact with one another promotes a sense of belonging, that has the power to become a sense of national identity.
Sports – particularly ones like football that only need a ball – are hugely accessible and offer an immediate reason for people to gather and integrate with one another. And because it has an air of fun about it, it can be harnessed as a reward or, in hard times, a form of escapism for all ages. In many circumstances, the beautiful game can encourage hope in both individuals and communities. Often over-looked as just a game, communal exercise is used as a sort of therapy, to grow self-confidence, motivation and aspiration.
It’s not just the locals in struggling communities who can reap the benefits of sport- volunteers working in Africa, long-term development experts or people new to the community can also use sport as an ice breaker. Because it’s not language specific, we all understand the way of a game and it’s a great way of showing solidarity with a new community, as well as making some new friends along the way. The best programs contribute to sports projects with the aim of establishing long and lasting mentoring relationships that will help grow and sustain the community. Here at Gap Africa Projects we’re proud to be a part of such programs, which we consider vital to the growth and development of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Finally, from our point of view, one of the best things about using sport to develop communities is that so many people can do it. Whereas agricultural projects, economical projects or construction work requires a level of expertise you may not have, if you’ve played sports before and have the enthusiasm, you can make a difference in the lives of others. Use the power of sport to help contribute to African communities with our coaching abroad volunteer projects that are designed to draw out all the rewarding qualities Mandela saw in various sporting activities. Make a difference to people’s lives and apply for one of our sporting Ghana and South Africa projects.