2.3.2. Capabilities and limits of sport for intercultural dialogue 

Sport is something common to many people and is conducted in a wide variety of settings in a multiplicity of ways – from a solo jog, through an organised match, to going swimming with the kids. Sport is often played in an informal setting, without any structural framework, but which nevertheless creates social interactions.

Both informal and organised sporting activities are important pillars of society and have a social task to fulfill. The International Olympic Committee, as the international umbrella organisation of sports has a mission, not only to celebrate the Olympic Games, but also to promote sport as a vehicle for education, social development, health and peace1.   It defines the values of sport as tolerance, fairness and solidarity.

In accordance with these values and its informal and formal role, sport should promote encounters between all kinds of people, independent of their characteristics.  The uniqueness of sport is that it can be used as a communication medium between people of different origins and with different languages. Because sport is based on values and rules that are shared worldwide, it does not require a common spoken language.

However, sport is not always inclusive. Used in the wrong way it can, in fact, become very exclusive.  People playing sport often pursue their own goals.  Many want to be faster, higher, stronger; to win, to be the best, and to come first. Competitiveness is natural and examples of exclusive behaviour are common. So making sport inclusive requires people who know how to use it to unlock its potential.

That means that facilitators at all levels of sports organisations (and organisations working with sports as a medium for inclusion) should be sensitised to inclusivity. Positions of authority within clubs should be open to new and to foreign members. People with migrant backgrounds should be encouraged to introduce new kinds of sport to clubs and programmes. Existing sports structures should be explained to new members so that they can participate in them and become volunteers and staff. Last, but most importantly, sports facilities should be used as places for intercultural encounters.

On the next pages, as well as in the next chapters, you will find some practical ideas on how to make sport more inclusive and how to use its potential as the basis for intercultural meetings.

Interim conclusion for sports facilitators:

Sport is based on values such as tolerance, fairness and solidarity. Thus, sport can be very inclusive and unify people. At the same time sport always implies competitiveness, which can make it very exclusive. To maximise the inclusive potential of sport it is important for you as facilitators to be qualified and equipped with tools which help to use this unique unifying quality of sport.  Bellow you will find practical reflective exercises as well as games to support you in unlocking the potential of sport.

[1] Ibanez B.Penas, Ma. Carmen Lopez Saenz. Interculturalism: Between Identity and Diversity. Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2006. P. 15

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