More than Medals: Youth in Sport for Peace and Development
February 11, 2014
As the Winter Olympic Games are underway in Sochi, I join the millions (if not billions) of fans cheering athletes and nations on to victory. From the sidelines, I reflect on my own experience in sport and feeling the thrill of victory or -- more often, truth be told -- the agony of defeat.
During these games however, I am thinking about something else as I “ooh and aah” and cheer Team USA along – about more than medals.
As part of our “thinking youth” agenda, we have been analyzing and talking about the centrality of youth to economic progress and advancing a more stable and peaceful world. We are looking closely at the global youth unemployment crisis, with youth now up to 4 times more likely to be unemployed than adults. So, as I watch in awe at the grace and strength of 15 year old skater Yulia Lipnitskaya and the creativity and speed of 20 year old slopestyle champion Sage Kotsenburg, I also think how sport contributes to youth development, and how youth in sports contributes to peace and development (SPD as the sector has come to be known).
At an international level, the Olympics bring us, competitors and spectators alike, together in friendship and peace. Through competition and international exposure, the Olympics encourage cross-cultural understanding, tolerance, equality and mutual respect among athletes and their communities around the world. Beyond the Olympic arena however, sport has the power to change lives and shape local communities in a very real way.
Nelson Mandela may have said it best, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they can understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”
Beyond the peace dividend, sport should be taken seriously for its developmental impact as well. At a time when policymakers and corporate leaders are grappling with historic numbers of unemployed and ill-equipped youth, sport is and should be increasingly recognized for its ability to impart skills and competencies that foster success not only on the field, but in the workplace as well: teamwork, discipline and time management, healthy living, communication and language, and strategic thinking to name a few. Sports have been particularly effective at empowering young women and girls, and engaging youth facing adversity whether it be in conflict, as a refugee, or differently-abled.
Over the last 10 years or so, we have seen the expansion and growth of this sector. The United Nations and its technical agencies including the International Labor Organization, bilateral, multilateral, corporate and philanthropic donors alike are more seriously investing in sport for peace and development among youth and communities. And with that seriousness has come intentionality and rigor. At a time of scarce resources and competing priorities for “development dollars,” it is no longer enough to say something works, we need to prove it.
Leading organizations and programs in this space like Peace Players International , A Ganar (funded by USAID and the IDB and implemented by Partners for the Americas) , and the British Council’s Premier Skills and Inspirational Legacy programs are being more deliberate about the outcomes they wish to seek and paying closer to attention to evaluating their effectiveness and impact. Yet, greater monitoring and evaluation, and better, more complete data on the link between sport and skills development, conflict prevention, economic growth, gender equality, and health is still needed to identify what works and to make the case for more of it. As the SPD field grows and the evidence of sport’s utility in promoting numerous development and security outcomes, we need for strategic partnerships, programs and policy to reach scale.
As the Olympic movement matures, its athletes, spectators and supporters are mirroring a demographically more youthful world. Sochi organizers have taken note- introducing several new sports to broaden the appeal to young participants and audiences alike. It is hard not to marvel at just how faster, higher and stronger these dynamic young athletes are. But, as we count medals, let’s also look past the podiums to see what sport means not only for these elite athletes, but for the millions of young people and their communities who are inspired, enabled, empowered and united by sport.
Dr. Nicole Goldin is director of the Youth, Prosperity and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in partnership with the International Youth Foundation (IYF). Katie Perry is an intern with the Youth, Prosperity and Security Initiative.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2014 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.