RST Hosts Symposium on Sport for Development and Peace

Participants in the SDP symposium

Dr. John Sugden (center), the founder of Football 4 Peace who is widely considered the father of the modern Sport for Development and Peace field, chats with other participants in the RST-sponsored symposium in March.

Sport has long been used as a tool for achieving social and therapeutic goals. After World War II, for example, adapted basketball played an important role in the rehabilitation and re-integration of veterans with disabilities. Since the 1970s and ‘80s, when Dr. John Sugden founded Football 4 Peace, a program that sought to use soccer as a means of alleviating conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, programs touting the benefits of sport for addressing non-sport issues have proliferated.

Some, like Football 4 Peace, are started by academicians whose research interests lie in the field known as sport for development and peace (SDP). Some are started by members of troubled communities themselves. In most cases, designers and implementers of these programs seek out funding partners from the public and private sectors, and competition for these funds has gotten stiff. Representatives of these various facets of the SDP model had little opportunity to convene as a group to discuss the benefits and challenges of partnerships, and of the SDP programs themselves before March 7, 2017. That's when the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism, its Sport + Development Lab, and the student organization Play for Change collaborated to bring together scholars, students, and practitioners from the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Japan for a critical examination of critical issues in the SDP field.

Symposium sessions addressed partnerships with the government, education, and health sectors, as well as national and international nongovernmental organizations, community organizations, and the participatory and professional sport sectors. Regardless of the source of funding, a common problem that emerged in discussions was the desire of funding agencies to push their own agendas through the SDP program. As Dr. John Sugden, founder of one of the early modern SDP programs Football 4 Peace and a professor in the Sociology of Sport at the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom, put it, "Every partnership comes with baggage. You have to make the most of opportunities without compromising your values or the values of your program." Another common theme that was shared among the symposium participants was the absolute necessity of cultural knowledge and sensitivity. Dr. Emma Sherry, an associate professor within the La Trobe University Centre for Sport and Social Impact in Australia, said, "You have to talk to the local people who are going to be affected by your program. Allow yourself to learn from the community. They know better what they need and what will work for them." RST professor Dr. Jon Welty-Peachey added, "When local folks are not involved, the program will not be sustainable."

The two-day symposium received good feedback, Dr. Welty-Peachey said. "We really started building bridges between scholars and practitioners through the symposium," he said, "and we hope to identify ways to keep the conversation going, and to help each other do better."

One of the products of the symposium will be a book published by Sagamore Publishing, which focuses on publications in the areas of health, sport, and recreation.