The Power of Sport: Affecting lives, Uniting Nations Globally

The Power of Sport: It was 1995. It was the Rugby World Cup final, rugby union’s biggest game. And yet it was so much more. It was nation-defining for South Africa, a transcendent moment in the transformation from apartheid to multi-racial democracy. Nelson Mandela donned the famous South Africa Springbok jersey and used the symbolic power of sport to unite black and white South Africans. “Sport has the power to change the world,” Mandela said in a speech five years after that match. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.

Nelson Mandela embraced the ideology of sport wholeheartedly — rugby, football, cricket, boxing, track and field, among others. He knew the global power of sport and what it can do in uniting a nation, and he used sport as a tool himself to create positive change in South Africa during troubled times.

In an April 2014 report by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, called Quantifying the Social Impacts of Culture and Sport, they found that the social and cultural benefits of sport are wide-ranging:

  • Health impacts: Those engaging with the arts as an audience member were 5.4% more likely to report good health. Sports participants were 14.1% more likely to report good health than non-participants.
  • Education impacts: Participants in arts are 14.1% more likely to report an intention to go on to further education.
  • Economic productivity related impacts: Unemployed people who engage with the arts as an audience member were 12% more likely to have looked for a job in the last four weeks when compared with unemployed people who had not engaged with the arts. Unemployed people who participate in sports are 11% more likely than non-participants to have looked for a job in the last four weeks.
  • Civic participation impacts: People who engage with the arts as an audience member are 6% more likely to have volunteered frequently (once a fortnight or more). People who participate in sport are 3% more likely to volunteer frequently. People who participate in sport gave £25 more per person in charitable donations over the last year.
Sport for social change

On September 21st, 2010, the UN observed the International Day of Peace. To mark the occasion there were more than 3,000 games of football played between otherwise conflicting sides in all of the 192 UN member countries. This in itself is a feat unmatched by any other medium to unite the troubled nations and help promote peace.

The power of arousal, interest, and passion can produce a force that moves people to change the way they think, act and behave towards themselves and the people around them. It is on this premise that development through sports is based and, as a movement, continues to achieve remarkable results whereas other approaches have tried and failed. Sport allows nations the chance to unite behind their national team and share a common hope and dream. Collective elation in victory or collective trauma in defeat provides a bonding experience that binds disparate peoples and regions together.

Sport has historically played an important role in all societies, whether it’s in the form of competitive sport, physical activity or play. It should not be considered as merely ‘a game’. Rather, it’s a tool that is almost unrivalled in promoting education, peace, development and social responsibility – which is particularly poignant in developing countries. To recognise this, the UN has identified the power of sport and implemented an International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

Sport: a founding pillar of a better life

In 2002 the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) World Health Report indicated that mortality, morbidity, and disability attributed to the major non-communicable diseases accounted for over 60% of all deaths. Additionally, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity were among the leading causes of these diseases. Diabetes, in particular, is seen as the most detrimental disease in the world – something that obesity can directly lead to.

Sport and physical activity are crucial for life-long healthy living. Sport improves health and well-being, extends life expectancy and reduces the likelihood of several non-communicable diseases, including heart disease. For diabetes sufferers, one of the main pillars for managing the condition is an active and healthy lifestyle – Vivi Nation believes sport is a key pillar in achieving this.

At an early age, children are advised to take part in physical education classes. The introduction of sport at this early stage is important to promote crucial life skills and values such as teamwork, confidence, self-esteem, respect and discipline. No matter what ability and differences of interests, we believe there is a sport for everyone: children just need to be empowered to find it. Sport and exercise is proven to improve emotional health, which in turn will result in positive improvements in all aspects of life.

It is the unique ability of sport that makes it the perfect catalyst for development and positive change. It provides the basis for physical fitness and healthy living, whilst also capturing and engaging people from all over the world. Whether you watch, play, or even like sport, there is simply no denying the positive medium it can be around the world. Let us not forget perhaps the greatest memory sport has provided amongst a time of real sorrow: Christmas Day 1914, during World War 1, British/allied and German soldiers put down their weapons and thus began the ‘Christmas Truce’. What did the soldiers do? They played football, exchanged gifts and sang carols.

Chris Smith
Founder of Vivi Nation, sports enthusiast, occasional triathlete, keen cyclist and optimistic Liverpool FC fan.

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