Sport Associations vs. Sport for Development NGOs

By | March 27th, 2015 | 6 Comments

sportdev-harvard

 

This is the third post in Pelle Kvalsund‘s series rethinking Sport Development and Sport For Development. (Click here and here to read the previous posts.)

 

By Pelle Kvalsund

 

If you have visited sub-Saharan Africa then you know that Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are everywhere, even in sports.

 

In 1999, I traveled from Norway to South Africa to work for Sports Coaches’ Outreach (SCORE). This NGO aims to create sporting opportunities for children and youth in disadvantaged urban and rural communities. The agenda was clear and the focus simple: Sport for all!

 

Since the pioneering days of the 1990s, thousands of new local and international sport for development organizations (S4D) began operating all around the world (partial list here). Most of these organizations feed on a broken local sport system to create, often successfully, high demand for their services. Sometimes their agendas are not clear or straight forward.

 

Sport NGOs are manna from heaven for Western governments and donors eager to boast about their efforts in developing civil society and reaching grassroots targets in the Global South. By offering sporting activities for boys and girls, S4D NGOs appear to have successfully “taken over” parts of the mandate for youth development usually given to local (including national) sport associations.

 

Backed by solid support from northern sponsors (public and private), many S4D groups have developed a strong internal organizational capacity that enables them to raise funds, submit grant proposals, market themselves, and run and evaluate activities according to the foreign aid industry’s terms and latest trends. These NGOs succeed by investing in their capacity and development. In the process, they create self-sustainable structures that go beyond their original function as “gap fillers” for outstretched African sport providers.

 

This process has fostered adversarial, even hostile, relationships between the NGOs and government-mandated sport bodies. Such rivalries stem from perceptions that the success of S4D NGOs stems at least in part from the sports governing bodies’ mismanagement and mistakes. In some cases, this animosity targets northern brokers who are seen to be undermining the local sport custodians’ mandates. The rivalry is rooted in struggles for material benefits, such as access to a new Land Cruiser, as much as by the fact that many NGOs and football academies are producing young footballers for sale in European and Asian markets.

 

Some governments and sport governing bodies have been developing strong policies and clear strategies that chart a coherent, productive direction for sport development in their countries. Chasing aid money, the NGOs often fail to align themselves with host countries’ strategic plans and begin operating in a parallel universe. This parallel universe does not only function in isolation; at times, it also produces some peculiar activities. As S4D’s agendas change because of funding levels and requirements, the sport activities they deliver also change.

 

Over the years, I have observed how using sport to address serious issues like AIDS, farming, sanitation, traffic safety (as well as some religious agendas) has backfired. NGOs forget (or choose to ignore) that the kids come first and foremost to play sports. They do not enjoy standing quietly in line passively listening to lengthy explanations about how to wash hands properly or safely cross the street.

 

Some of the S4D activities are so far removed from sport that they confuse both the boys and girls and sport development practitioners like myself. Such a wrong-headed approach has led to many youths choosing to pursue other activities and dropping out of sport all together.

 

What would the African and Asian sport associations (discussed in my previous post here) look like and how would they function today if northern brokers, supported by Western governments and companies, had invested the same amount of human and material capital in capacity-building and long-term development? The Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sport, an umbrella organization for all national sports federations in Norway, has adopted this strategy. It will be interesting to follow its development over time.

Sport Development or Sport For Development?

By | February 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment

Photo courstesy of Pelle Kvalsund

National Stadium, Monrovia, 2007. Courtesy of Pelle Kvalsund.

 

Football is Coming Home is pleased to welcome Pelle Kvalsund for a new series on the field of sport development. How can we develop regular long-term sport opportunities for a youth population that is predicted to double in the next thirty years? How do we ensure that the services produced for these athletes are of quality and value so that we can retain both athletes and coaches? This first post outlines some of the main institutional and economic challenges.

 


 

By Pelle Kvalsund

 

Pelle Kvalsund, international sport development consultant, is a former athlete, coach, and physical education teacher from Norway. As a consultant for over 15 years, he has worked in many countries including Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Burundi, Zambia, and Bosnia. Pelle has served a number of international organizations, both within sport and the area of community development, and is currently an advisor for the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sport and their partners in the global south. He is the author of “Sport as a Response to Emergencies and Disasters” in Sport, Peace and Development, edited by Keith Gilbert and Will Bennett (free download here). 

 

 

I’m at the National Stadium in Monrovia, Liberia, in 2007, watching a women’s international football match between the host nation and Nigeria. The stadium is jam-packed with fans and UN peacekeepers. It ends 1-1. A fair result from my perspective as a neutral observer, but not for the home fans. A riot breaks out. The crowd storms the pitch and the UN peacekeepers fire teargas to save the unfortunate referee from the mob.

 

There is a lot to be said about this rowdy incident, but above all else it illustrates the extraordinary popularity of football and the social importance of sport, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world where resources are scarce and life is generally challenging and unstable.

 

And it is precisely sport’s cultural significance that provides those of us working in sport development with a foundation on which to build sport programs that offer positive activities and outlets for many children and youth.

 

Let me start by doing something that I hate doing, but have become quite good at: identifying a stereotype. I do this to present a general image of the field of sport development in the Global South (though it applies to parts of global north too).

 

Such a country boasts a Ministry of Sport, which is paired with the Ministry of Youth or the Ministry of Education. The department of sport is of very high personal and political interest within government circles due to the widespread popularity of sports in society (particularly football), but the same interest is not reflected in the budget allocations. Most of the sport budget is used to pay the government employees (directly and by extension) and to maintain their status. Some of the money pays for upkeep of facilities and the participation of national teams in international competitions. Most of the remaining funds find their way to the national football association, while only a symbolic sum goes to athletics, basketball, volleyball, and other sports with athletes capable of winning a medal for the country on the global stage.

 

Administratively, the country has a national sport council or commission (the extension mentioned above) mandated to roll out government policies, distribute government funds, provide logistical support for major competitions, and govern and support the associations. A national Olympic committee bring selected athletes to the Olympic Games every four years. In addition, it has the financial ability to support elite athlete development and organizational capacity building through a central program called Olympic Solidarity.

 

Each sport also has a national association that generally consists of an “elected” board and president, and a general secretary. The president makes the important decisions and the general secretary does the work. There is no office. The association’s documentary records are tucked away in a briefcase or (if lucky) in the general secretary’s laptop. The associations run their operations according to a calendar of events.

 

There is no long-term plan, just day-to-day survival. Money is impossibly scarce and there is neither sufficient equipment nor adequate facilities. Instead of a youth development plan, potential athletes are recruited from a few well-endowed schools that host inter-scholastic sport competitions once or twice a year. In the case of football, private academies and sport and development NGOs of varying size and quality also train young boys. (Girls are rarely included in these programs.)

 

This stereotype of how sport is organized and run in a country of the Global South should help to better understand the stark challenges before us and how they shape the multiple and diverse attempts and approaches used to develop sport in poorer regions of the world. In the blog posts that follow, I intend to share reflections based on my experiences in Africa and beyond to spark a dialogue with readers about the differences between “Sport Development” and “Sport For Development” and why these matter. I look forward to the conversation.

 

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