Sport’s role in social development needs analysis

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The concrete outcomes of local-level sports projects and activities in terms of intercultural dialogue and social development should be analysed and documented to get public authorities and other stakeholders to help support the current voluntary structures, argues the president of the International Sports and Culture Association Mogens Kirkeby in an interview with EURACTIV. 

Mogens Kirkeby is the president of International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA)

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

What exactly is the current situation concerning the use of sport as a tool for promoting intercultural dialogue in Europe? 

The current trends and characteristics of promoting intercultural dialogue through sport in Europe are primarily that the activities are being planned and implemented at local level without an overall strategy, policy and support system. Most interventions and outcomes are often described through “good practices” more than evidence-based evaluation and documentation. 

The sport clubs with their voluntary-based structures and commitments are the settings where the activities are carried out. The people in the clubs run these activities driven by personal commitment, and they see the direct benefit for the people involved. 

However, when you communicate with public authorities and other stakeholders, you have to communicate to the brains of the civil servants – and not only with a passionate heart. Therefore there is a demand to present solid documentation and evaluation of the content and effect of the activities and projects. 

What is the role of the EU and other (national/local/international level) stakeholders in boosting the use of sport as a tool to promote intercultural dialogue? 

Local projects are strong because they reach people where they are – in the local communities. However, these initiatives are also vulnerable, because they rely on personal and local initiatives and are often not assisted by support structures. 

I strongly believe that the attention and commitment from civil society organisations and sport associations in this field could be strengthened through long-term national programmes and back-up systems for the local initiatives. This could ensure more sustainable initiatives, better results, inspiration and documentation. 

The EU level is a bridge for political inspiration, both for governments and for NGO leaders, where development, inspiration and exchange of experience from existing long-term national programmes should take place. 

How can sport civil society sports organisations be encouraged to engage in intercultural dialogue? 

Many ‘sport for all’ organisations are very much engaged in civil society topics and challenges. There is of course always a limit to how many of society’s challenges civil society could take on its shoulders. 

Two of the most prominent challenges today are public health and integration. Civil society is expected to contribute in both cases, because civil society organisations have direct contact to the citizens. 

But too often we hear for example the public health sector asking “what can the ‘sport for all’ organisations do to promote public health?” Such a question should be accompanied by the answer to what the public health sector itself will do to support the sport organisations in combating inactivity and obesity. This would demonstrate an equal partnership between the public sector and civil society and be a good starting point for more efficient results. 

What role do you see for sport and intercultural dialogue in the upcoming European Sport Programme? 

The White Paper on Sport has its focus on the societal role of sport and quite a few of the proposed actions will benefit ‘sport for all’. Social inclusion and integration are directly mentioned as priorities in the White Paper and some existing EU programmes are mentioned as support programmes also for sport actions. 

This is about ‘passing the ball to somebody else’, and we know from experience that it is unfortunately very difficult to obtain support from non-sport dedicated EU programmes. Only the youth programmes have so far managed to benefit initiatives promoted by civil society organisations from the sport sector. 

You said earlier this year that the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue is neglecting sport. Have you seen any improvement on the issue since? 

I am afraid that the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue will be remembered as a year with priority on culture, and in this case a definition of culture, which does not include or give priority to popular grassroots culture as ‘sport for all’. 

If we run through the national action plans for the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, we find that very few countries mention sport and its organisations as important stakeholders, so this European campaign did not yet succeed in the field of sport. 

However, I find the comments of Commissioner Olli Rehn about using civil society networks in the enlargement process in Western Balkans very interesting. I feel sure that we here have common goals and interests. Our South East European Network coordinated by the Sports Union of Slovenia is very interested and engaged in this integration process at citizens’ level. 

Heads of state can integrate countries into the European Union, but it takes civil society to integrate citizens into the European Union, and Commissioner Rehn seems to be very much aware of that. 

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