The topic about the contribution of sports to a country’s development has ignited heated debate among scholars with some supporting the view that sporting activities promote development while others oppose it. The proponents of the idea assert that sports competition contributes to the economic, social, and political development of a nation (Swinnen & Vandemoortele, 2008, p. 5). On the other hand, the opponents cite the underrepresentation of the special groups such as the persons with disability in sporting activities as the reason for opposing the view.
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However, although some scholars have detached sports from development, the truth is that sporting activities heavily contribute to development, not only for the participating individual but also to a country. Economically, sporting activities employ a large number of persons across the world, including players and coaches. Besides, sports improve the health of the players in terms of their physical fitness, which is a primary requirement for the military jobs.
Politically, the activities are perceived as important tools that bring together persons from different cultural and religious backgrounds to boost cohesion and/or alleviate political animosities. Additionally, sports promote international interaction through the mega-sport international contests that bring together even the enemy countries. In such contests, the rival countries meet and participate in the games. The reunion may present an opportunity to initiate dialogue.
However, at times, sports produce negative results on a country’s politics as evidenced by the cycle of violence that has characterized major football matches in the past, for instance, the football conflict between El Salvador and Honduras, which happened during the 1970 FIFA world cup in Tegucigalpa. This paper seeks to answer the question of whether sports contribute to the development of a nation or whether the activities inhibit the development of the country in question. To achieve the stated objective, the research will analyze the role of sports in the social, political, and economic development. The author seeks to support the view that sports contribute to political, economic, and social development.
The Contribution of Sports to Development
The importance of sports in stimulating development can be illustrated by the continued use of games to foster development in various countries. Various national and international bodies have used sports to achieve their development agendas. A case in point is the emphasis placed on the sports in the accomplishment of the ‘Millennium Development Goals’. The sponsors of the millennium development goals have cited that using sports to facilitate the achievement of the goals may be a major step towards achieving the goals. The millennium goals include eradication of extreme poverty, achievement of universal primary education, reduction of child mortality rates, and the eradication of HIV/AIDS (Levermore & Beacom, 2009, p. 160).
Some of the millennium developmental goals such as the eradication of extreme poverty and the eradication of HIV/AIDS are set to be achieved in part through sports. For example, sports will facilitate the involvement of the poor people in social activities, which may open up job opportunities for the youths. Additionally, sports may bring together the youths to benefit from the training about HIV/AIDS prevention measures offered by the relevant organizations. Such organizations target youths who are organized in groups to pass such knowledge.
One of the major economic developments achieved through the sporting activities is the provision of job opportunities for people all over the world. Initially, sports activities were viewed as leisure and rarely did people perceive them as a career. However, in the contemporary world, sporting has turned to be a career whereby millions of people across the world earn a living from sports. The sporting careers are not limited to the participants but also the coaches who make money from training the players.
Many other persons have been absorbed in the companies that deal with the production of the sporting equipment. Therefore, sports help to eradicate poverty through providing job opportunities to the talented sportspeople. Issues such as the recognition of sports as a career and the increased investment in the sporting activities by governments across the world have facilitated the initiation of programs that are aimed at imparting skills to volunteers, players, and the participants at large.
The skills are beneficial to the future of those who acquire them since they increase their employability, hence offering a solution to the unemployment issue that has befallen most third world countries, especially in the African continent (Coalter, 2013, p.132). The other economic gain that accrues from the sporting activities is improved health. Swinnen and Vandemoortele (2008) assert that sports are closely linked to economic development, owing to the view that sports facilitate healthy living (p. 2). In this regard, persons who participate in sporting activities are physically fit and hence more productive economically. A healthy population is economically productive since it effectively engages in national building activities to avert over-reliance on government funds.
Infrastructural construction is another important developmental aspect of sports and the related activities. Countries that host the world sports enjoy the benefits from funds and donations from the World Bank and donors to facilitate the construction of the necessary infrastructure. The constructed infrastructure remains important to the concerned nation, even after the completion of the contests. Such infrastructures include public roads, houses, stadiums, and other recreational centers. The housing shortage has been on the rise in the past few decades. Most countries suffer from lack of residential houses to accommodate their citizens (Coakley, 2011, p. 318).
The additional houses that are built to accommodate the visitors benefit the citizens upon the termination of the events. The tourism sector equally benefits from such events as the number of visitors increases during such events. The business community equally benefits from such contest through the increased turnover of different commodities. The flourishing businesses, in turn, increase the annual tax collection of the concerned nation, thus leading to increased finances. The finances may be used for developmental purposes such as in the construction of the infrastructure, building of new hospitals, and the establishment of new schools.
One of the social developments achieved through sports is women empowerment and gender equality. In the recent past, women have been in the front line in the fight for their independence and self-reliance. In response to the calls, various countries such as Korea, South Africa, Japan, and India have developed sport-based programs aimed at empowering women to help them in achieving the stated goals. Such programs encourage women to engage in sporting activities. Research by Banda, Lindsey, Jeanes, and Kay (2008) indicates that women who participate in sports are more likely to have increased self-esteem, perform better academically, and are healthier than their counterparts who do not participate in any sports (p. 170). As revealed here and in the subsequent areas, this source is relevant because it shows the role that sports play in boosting the players’ wellbeing. Sports also help to avert early marriages due to the confidence created on the girl child. The international community may such programs as a forum to promote empowerment in the backdrop of increased calls to empower women.
The other social development arising from the embracement of sports is the universal children education. The sport-based community education programs offer an alternative way of education acquisition for children who cannot attend school due to issues such as disability. Some scholars such as Coakley (2011) have also established a connection between sports and increased self-esteem by claiming that sports help to alleviate stigma among vulnerable groups in the society (p. 321). Stigma prevents able men and women from participating in the economic and social endeavors for fear of being laughed off. Therefore, its extirpation would lead to an increase in the number of women involved in communal activities.
Promotion of health and the reduction of child mortality are other social benefits that accrue to countries, which have sporting facilities. Health experts often use sports to pass health information to young mothers to increase their knowledge regarding the best child-rearing practices (Coakley, 2011, p. 156). In such programs, women are educated about the importance of engaging in sports during pregnancy to improve the health of the unborn kid.
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Additionally, the government may take advantage of the sports to administer major vaccines to children to mitigate premature deaths. Sports cause more children to enroll in school, hence facilitating such treatments (Banda et al., 2008, p. 112). Information regarding the prevention of childhood illnesses such as polio, malaria, and measles is passed through such programs. Environmental conservation campaigns may be facilitated through sporting activities to create awareness of the importance of conserving the environment. The collective participation of the community in the communal projects fosters peaceful coexistence between them.
There exists a great connection between sports and politics as evidenced by the increased use of sports by politicians to attract voters during campaigns. Politicians often organize tournaments and award the winning teams as a way of creating publicity. Conversely, sports may have both positive and negative results on a country’s politics, depending on the political atmosphere in the said nation. The use of sports in political campaigns has escalated in the past few decades.
In most cases, the winning political party is likened to the best team in the world. On the other hand, the winning politician is likened to the best world football scorer. Football has particularly had the greatest influence on politics of the various nations around the globe. However, other types of games too have been politicized, including Olympics and boxing. The former US President, George Bush, was recorded using the Iraq’s win in his 2007 campaigns, signifying the influence of sports on politics (Swinnen & Vandemoortele, 2008, p. 6).
Sports do not only contribute to the development of the local politics but also contributes to the development internationally. The famous football war between El Salvador and Honduras illustrates the role of sports in shaping the political relationship between countries. The war broke out during the 1970 FIFA world cup during the first game in Tegucigalpa. It resulted in deaths and massive injuries. Although the war was initially fueled by socio-economic reasons, it took a political path when Salvadorans attacked the Honduran fans and insulted their national anthem (Hylton & Totten, 2008, p. 138).
In this event, sports were seen as the facilitator of violence since the violence broke out because of the rivalry between the two countries’ fans. The actions by the Salvadorans to rough off the flag and to insult the national anthem of the Hondurans are an indicator of the interference of politics in sports. Following the event, a cycle of violence commenced between the two states to the extent of causing the international community to intervene to restore peace. Although the animosity between the two nations did not exclusively come from sports rivalry, the rival fans played a major role in the violence.
The 2004 AFC Asian Cup hosted by China is another illustration of the role of politics in sports. The Chinese fans chanted anti-Japanese slogans as the Japanese national anthem was being played (Levermore & Beacom, 2009, p. 142). The action was attributed to the historical animosity between the two countries. Additionally, the Chinese fans repeatedly yelled to the Japanese players and their fans. The Japanese win against China resulted in demonstrations by the Chinese fans. The action demonstrated that political opinions shape sports and that they (sports) might not be a sure way of solving political disputes.
Sports are perceived as a sure way of solving political disputes among warring nations as illustrated by the 2007 AFC Asian Cup. In the mentioned contest, Iraq’s action to turn up for the match surprised the whole world since the American football team was also present. Iran was expected to skip the event, owing to the fact that America had invaded its territory. After Iraq had won the games, the country’s spokesperson said they wanted to stop extremism in their country. They claimed that the win was a message to the extremists to stop interfering with the joy of the citizens. Some of the Iraqi players used the forum to request America to withdraw its forces from Iraq. They claimed that they would not go back to their home country with the continued presence of the US troops (Levermore & Beacom, 2009, p. 116).
Politics not only features in the football matches but also in other games. In some cases, sports are used to force a particular country to accommodate the political demands from a rival country. Norway refused to participate in the 1957 Bandy World Championship only because the Soviet Union was also participating in the games (Swinnen & Vandemoortele, 2008, p. 4). The two nations had previously been involved in violence following the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.
Just as Norway declined the 1957 bandy tournament for political reasons, Ukraine too declined to participate in the 2015 Bandy World Championship hosted by Russia. The action was meant to push Russia to desist from holding Crimea, which Ukraine perceived as part of its territory that had been annexed by Russia. Based on the described cases, it is evident that politics plays a crucial role in sports activities. Hence, games can be used to subdue or calm political violence.
In some cases, sports have played an important role in solving political differences between countries as evidenced by the 1998 FIFA World Cup that was held in France. The match brought together the US and Iran who were political enemies. Following Iran’s win, the US presented gifts to Iran (Hylton & Totten, 2008, p. 141). This act was perceived to be a sign of an end to the animosity that existed between the duo nations. The world watched the two countries closely as they were political enemies. Interestingly, the US presented Iran with an award for the win. The action signified political peace between the two enemy countries, hence illustrating the importance of sports in solving political differences and boosting international relations.
In conclusion, sports contribute to positive or negative political development. The positive developments include promotion of peace through diplomacy and the alleviation of the inhumane policies. The negatives include violence and animosity between countries.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of sports in supporting development, the effect of sports on social, political, and economic development of Rwanda, Georgia, Zimbabwe, Columbia, and Turkey are analyzed hereafter. The listed countries are chosen for this analysis due to their fast pace in the embracement of sports to stimulate development. The other criterion used in the selection is poverty and previous bloody warfare.
Rwanda is one of the leading countries in the use of sports to achieve development across the country. Under the UNICEF sports mainstreaming program, the country has managed to integrate the vulnerable groups such as orphans into the communal activities through sponsoring tournaments between the vulnerable groups and the ordinary children. The interaction has resulted in increased self-esteem for the physically challenged children by extirpating stigma among them.
The country’s data indicates enhanced performance in school by the said groups. This finding confirms the effectiveness of the program. The project has enabled its sponsors to acquire funds from donors to accomplish their mission, which revolves around empowering the vulnerable groups in the society. The program intends to collaborate with the government to facilitate the extension of the program to all primary schools across the nation with the view of promoting unity. The endeavor is informed by the view that uniting pupils may go a long way in assisting the country to recover from the effects caused by the famous genocide (Levermore & Beacom, 2009, p. 159).
Georgia is yet another country that has made great progress in the use of sports to achieve development across the country. The project, which operates under the name, the championship on the President’s Cup, occurs annually where children from different schools engage in contests. The program’s primary objective is to identify and nurture sporting talents among the kids. Moreover, the program offers health information to the community. It educates children on the harmful effects of drugs and substance abuse.
Drug abuse is a major problem that affects the youths. Hence, the program may be a great success in the alleviation of the problem. Since its establishment in 2005, the program has managed to mobilize over 45000 children annually to participate in it (Banda et al., 2008, p. 107). The sponsors of the program plan to use it to pass peace messages to the community while at the same time eradicating HIV/AIDS.
In Columbia, sports are used to promote peace and tolerance across the country against the backdrop of political instabilities that characterize the economy. Youths from across the country are mobilized to participate in sports and to pass a message of peace to the citizens. The project intends to achieve zero tribal crashes in the coming years. In addition to promoting peaceful coexistence between the citizens, the sponsors of the program use it to educate the public on the major social issues that affect the community. Such issues include health, environmental conservation, and substance abuse. The collective participation of people from different ethnical and political backgrounds helps to foster peace and respect for each other.
Turkey is yet another country that uses sports to stimulate development in the entire country. Under the Family and Child Training, the country has managed to reduce child mortality rates by mobilizing young mothers to participate in sports to benefit from health information offered by the program’s sponsors. Additionally, the program mobilizes women to participate in games to boost their health. Medical experts recommend regular physical exercises to prevent chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart problems. Given that the listed chronic illnesses are the major consumers of the country’s health funds, sports may go a long way in reducing the annual health cost budget. The program has also been important in increasing the acceptance of the physically challenged children in the society (Levermore & Beacom, 2009, p. 125).
Zimbabwe is another country that has embraced the use of sports to promote HIV/AIDs awareness, empower women, and eradicate poverty among its citizens. The program has achieved much success in terms of the listed goals. It has reached close to 25,000 young people since its establishment in 2000, most of which are young females. Given that Zimbabwe is one of the poorest countries around the globe, such a program may go a long way in eradicating poverty through imparting the right skills to the participants with the view of increasing their employability (Coalter, 2013, p. 78).
Scholars have differed about the effectiveness of sports in stimulating development in different countries. Some scholars have argued that sports help a country to achieve development while others dispute the argument that sports alone cannot achieve development. This paper has analyzed both views. It concludes that sports are effective tools for development. Economically, sports help to create job opportunities for the youths coupled with improving the health of the participants by making them more productive.
Besides, sports fuel economic development through the construction of infrastructure to facilitate the sporting activities. Countries that host international contests benefit from funds from donors to establish the necessary infrastructure. Socially, sports help to promote peace and tolerance, increase awareness of social issues affecting the society, and to improve gender equality. Additionally, sporting activities help to identify the vulnerable groups in the society who require special attention.
Such groups benefit from the connections availed by the relevant sport-based support programs. Additionally, sports help to identify persons with exceptional physical fitness to join the various national security forces such as the military. Politically, sports may cause positive or negative developments in terms of fostering peace or sponsoring violence. In some cases, sports promote peace by bringing together people from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Besides, mega-sporting activities help to promote international peace not to mention that it can be an effective tool for compelling countries to alter certain policies. All the highlighted benefits of sports have been covered in details in this paper.
The findings from this research indicate that sports are an important tool for development. Hence, games should be promoted at all levels. However, to maximize sport-based development, the global governments must address the potential barriers, which include inadequacy of qualified teachers/trainers and the lack of good and accessible sports infrastructure. Additionally, sports education needs to be integrated into the school curriculum to encourage young children to embrace games.
Banda, D., Lindsey, I., Jeanes, R., & Kay, T. (2008). Partnerships involving Sports-for-Development NGOs and the Fight against HIV/AIDS. New York, NY: York St John University.
Coakley, J. (2011). Youth sports what counts as “positive development?” Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 35(3), 306-324.
Coalter, F. (2013). Sport for development: What Game are we playing? London: Routledge.
Hylton, K., & Totten, M. (2008). Community sports development. Sports Development: Policy, Process and Practice, 8(2), 137-142.
Levermore, R., & Beacom, A. (2009). Sport and international development. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Swinnen, J., & Vandemoortele, T. (2008). Sports and development: An economic perspective on the impact of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. ICSSPE Bulletin, 53(7), 1-6.