Approximately 18 months ago I sat down with my family to announce that after five years away and regardless of the fact I was in a good and stable job, I was packing it all in to go back off to uni to do a Masters. What started this radical decision to put myself back into the world of exams, essays and studenthood? Well many many things, but mainly my fascination with the idea of sport for development.
Increasingly sport is used as a tool to engage with people from all walks of life and is becoming a popular way of creating aid based programmes in less developed countries. Admittedly, my course didn’t look specifically at sport for development…or at all, and was instead geared towards the overall industry of development (including some pesky economics). However, nonplussed by this, I set about writing my dissertation on the topic. I wanted to look at sport for development and I wanted to look at where women featured in it. The rest was open for investigation.
And so I began. I’m not going to lie, having no background in the topic and not having been out to any sport for development projects in any country anywhere, I soon realised I’d set myself a bit of a task. This was further emphasised by the majority of my lecturers giving me very blank looks when I pitched them my dissertation title and generally suggesting I instead looked at the economic impact of World Cups on BRICS host nations. The sensible topic choice yes, but not the one I wanted to look at. Luckily I managed to corner one lecturer with an interest in sport for development into helping me out and for this I am still hugely grateful.
After that it was reading, emailing, reading, a bit of crying, more reading and finally some brilliant Skype conversations with some fantastic leaders in the world of sport for development who plied me with useful information and advice (ah Skype, you wonderous creation you). And so it went on for the next three months, interspersed with trips to the local shops for more Haribo than you’d ever think possible for the human body to consume, a bit more reading and eventually some typing. And then some editing. Oh the editing…
Eventually “On The Sidelines: Finding a Girl’s Place in Sport for Development Participation” was born. But what did I find out? Well, a lot of things, but mainly that sport as a tool for development is still a very male dominated domain and programmes for girls can run into serious problems. In a nutshell, a successful programme needs cooperation and backing from the girls’ local community to counter any religious, social, cultural and gender norms that may be upset by girls going against the grain and taking part in sport. But I also learned that often the objectives for western donor organisations when setting up the organisations aren’t necessarily the things that the girls taking part in the initiative actually benefit from. Instead, often the opportunity to have a secure space to meet their peers where they can discuss their problems and concerns or have a general gossip and develop their sports skills were just as beneficial to the girls as the donor focused objectives.
Or something along those lines, it’s hard to condense the bulk of text I eventually submitted down into 100 words!
So that’s where I’ve been this last year. I finally got a chance to look in depth at an area that’s interested me for years and combine a passion for sport, an interest in world development and a commitment to women’s rights.
A huge thank you goes out to those from Women Win, Moving the Goalposts, The Craig Bellamy Foundation, Football Action and The International Platform on Sport and Development, who dealt with my persistent questions and queries. Their amazing work has paved a way for girls’ and women’s participation in sport for development and provided a vital understanding into how to run a successful programme with a communities backing.
Images from Craig Bellamy Foundation