Demystifying the Role of Sport in Society

The euphoria and wild celebrations which gripped the South Africans when it was announced that they were going to host the 2010 edition of the FIFA World Cup only served to signify the role that sport can play in a society.

By Tirivashe Nheweyembwa

People of different social, economic and political standing embraced each other in celebration of being awarded the right to host the World Cup, and the celebrations also cascaded to the whole of Africa that finally Africans were going to host one of the most prestigious sport events.

Some were celebrating the economic benefits that were going to be associated with the hosting of the most prestigious sporting showcase, while others were celebrating to see their football icons live in person for the first time in their lives.

south africa world cup 2010

Such was the atmosphere in 2004 when Joseph Sepp Blatter, former FIFA President, announced to the world that South Africa was going to host the 2010 world cup. This is another testimony of how sport can be used to unite world.

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon while addressing the world on the International Day for Sport for Development and Peace also underscored the importance of sport as a common denominator and world language that is understood by everybody.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon

“Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers. It is a worldwide industry whose practices can have widespread impact. Most of all, it is a powerful tool for progress and for development”, said Dr Ban Ki Moon.

If this is the case what is the situation in Zimbabwe, are we using sport as a tool for progress and development, are we using it to unite our beloved country or instead we are doing the reverse.

At independence in 1980, the Government established the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Recreation and this was a demonstration of the new government’s commitment to take sport to the people and one may ask but why was this so.

It may be argued that, at that time the government was attempting to use sport as a tool to help ameliorate some of the health challenges that the new nation was facing and use it to integrate the society which had been involved in a long and protracted war.

A dollar allocated to sport programmes can significantly reduce the health bill of the country as less people will be visiting the hospital seeking treatment over diseases that may quite easily be prevented.

The International Journal of Behavioral Nutritional made the following observations about the role of sport in reducing chronic diseases:

• Physical Activity helps lower the risk of developing non insulin – dependent diabetes (type2), it helps increase insulin sensitivity by about 25% so that circulating concentrations of insulin and Adrenalin are much lower in a physically active person than one who is inactive. Physical Activity increases blood glucose level levels thus lowers type 2 diabetes.

• Cancer is one of the major challenges that many governments in Africa are battling with and in some instances the rate at which people die of cancer is almost at the rate of HIV and AIDS however with regular exercise cancers such as colon cancer are significantly reduced.

These are some of sport’s contribution to the well being of the people and it can be deduced that sport helps increase a nation’s longevity if they make it part of their culture.

Our major challenge has been that we have not properly sought to engage Government in bringing to their attention that if they increase the sport budget and run campaigns such as ‘Active Zimbabwe’, which will encourage everyone to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day some of the chronic diseases will be significantly reduced thus lowering the pressure in our resource constrained health institutions.

Over and above disease mitigation in the society, sport is also a powerful peace maker like it is now in Somalia, Rwanda and Nepal where it is being used to rehabilitate some of the former child soldiers.

They are now Community Sport Leaders who are now driving sport in their communities thus ensuring that the peace that they enjoy lasts forever. Sport also plays a vital in healing the psychological effects of war.

Since 1997 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has been working in the Bhutanese Refugee camp in Nepal to offer sport and recreational programmes for the refugees.

During the ancient Olympics times around 776BC, the warring nations used have a truce whose outcome was to the effect that nations would hold peace to participate in the Olympic Games. This is how they used to highly regard sport.

It may also be argued that sport contributes to the attainment of gender parity as participation in sport is traditionally dominated by males and by having girls participating, it challenges the stereotypes of girls and woman thus breaking down entrenched cultures, in the process women and girls gain recognition by the society they end up being mentors to their peers.

Kirsty Coventry and Rosemery Mugadza stand out as shining examples who have challenged the entrenched culture that it can only be men who can make it in sport.

kirsty-coventry

The integration of the physically and mentally challenged with the able bodied, is every government’s worry and in 2008 the SRC acting on behalf of the Government introduced the Zimbabwe National Paralympic Games as a way of achieving this objective. In a speech recently read on his behalf during the closing ceremony of the Zimbabwe National Paralympic Games the Vice President Hon. Emmerson Mnangagwa said, “It is Government’s considered view that the Zimbabwe National Paralympic Games should be one of the avenues which can be used to create awareness that if you give People living with disabilities are given access to the play grounds they will play the sport.

Emmerson-Mnangagwa

“Gone are the days when we used to sideline them because of their physical or mental state. We need to strike equality among the people and sport by its nature can put everyone on the same pedestal never mind their circumstances”, added Vice President Mnangagwa.

Sports and Recreation Commission Act chapter 25:15 of 1991 section 19 (i) empowers the SRC to promote sport at the workplace.

The benefits accruing from the promotion of sport at the workplace include reduced absenteeism owing to the fact that the workers will be fit thus do not always fall sick, there is likely to be improved team work among the employees because if they play together they are like to relate to each other in a better manner in work related situations.

Banks, the mines and the uniformed forces are some of the examples of employers who used to promote sport among its employees. At some point the Banks had designed Wednesday afternoons as a sports day for their employees and they would close at lunch time to allow their employees to play sport while the Mines would host the chamber of mines games. All this was out of the understanding that sport can help improve productivity at the work place.

Employers are therefore encouraged to designate time within working hours for their employees to play sport if this is not possible, they may consider corporate membership in sport clubs so that their employees may practice sport during the weekends.

Sport is also one of the key economic drivers and according to John Luiz and Riyaz Fadal all from the Wits University in South Africa, sport can have a significant impact to the economy of a nation.

This they said was because sport contributes to the fiscus directly through the employment of many people, the manufacture of sportswear and equipment; it also contributes to the hospitality industry through the teams which are ever touring nations in fulfillment of fixtures.

They further argued that sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics had become highly sought after commodities by nations because of their ability to regenerate host cities like what happened during the London 2012 Olympics where East London was renovated ahead of the Games and it now has a new look and feel. In the United States it is estimated that sport contributes close to 2 percent of the annual GDP and further it is estimated that the sport industry ranks 11th among other industries.

This implies that sport is a significant player in the well being of the nation. It is unfortunate that in many African Countries sport is yet to occupy its rightful place as it is viewed as a pastime and therefore no studies have been made to measure its impact to the economy.

Finally the United Nations Children’s rights also recognize the right to play as a basic human right and if this is the case what steps have nations taken to go beyond the convections that we subscribed to. In Zimbabwe our new constitution section 32 provides that, “The state must take all practical measures to encourage sporting and recreational activities, including the provision of sporting and recreational facilities for all people”.

While we applaud the Government for taking sport seriously by including it in the supreme law of the land, there is need to now translate the provisions of the constitution into tangible action which will see Zimbabwe prosper owing of sport.

The United Nations has also declared the 6th of April as the International Day for Sport for Development and Peace, this is a reflection that World Leaders recognize the important role that sport plays in the well being of nations hence the need to be more practical in the delivery of sport programmes.

Do we still have doubts that sport can play a pivotal role in the well being of the nation?

Tirivashe Nheweyembwa is the Corporate Communications Officer of the SRC he can be reached on tirinhewez@gmail.com or tnheweyembwa@src.org.zw

Tongai Mwenje

Tongai Mwenje is a Senior Editor with Zimbabwe's largest online sports magazine Sportbrief www.sportbrief.co.zw. He has been writing professionally since 2012 and currently writes for technology and sport blogs. He has vast experience in digital marketing, sports reporting and analysis. He is also a Sports and Technology columnist with Financial Gazette Online Sports Column and Technology Magazine respectively.

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