Critical Insights into the Political Economy of Sport for Development and Peace

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Simon DARNELL, University of Toronto, Canada
In this presentation, I draw on the findings of a recently completed major research study into the Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) sector, funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. Over a period of more than two years, our team conducted research in Jamaica, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Zambia; further research was carried out at SDP events and conferences in Europe and North America and through interviews with major international SDP stakeholders. These diverse locations were selected to ensure the capture of current SDP activity, and to maximize the diversity of geographies and cultures included within the fieldwork. Most data were collected through qualitative research involving mixtures of participant observation, ethnography, and semi-structured interviews. From this research, I advance three main arguments. First, despite rhetorical and political commitment to the use of sport to pursue grassroots, participatory and ‘bottom up’ development, I suggest that the SDP sector as currently organized still proceeds in a heavily top-down fashion, with corporations, international non-governmental organizations, funders, and inter-governmental bodies holding significant influence on the sector. Second, the marrying of sport to international development has resulted in a range of political tensions within the SDP sector, such as whether sport organizations should be focused on sport first and development second, and whether the commercialization and professionalization of SDP practices has yielded positive results. Third, while SDP programs have demonstrated important benefits, the top-down structure of the global SDP sector clearly has effects on local initiatives, some unexpected, and not always positive. The implications of these arguments are discussed.