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At a glance: United States of America

Beyond Sport Summit highlights the role of sport in creating positive social change

By MP Nunan

CHICAGO, USA, 4 October 2010 - Dozens of athletes and leaders from the world of sport gathered last week in Chicago for a summit hosted by Beyond Sport, a global organization that promotes, develops and funds the use of sport to create positive social change in youth – goals that are shared by UNICEF.

© UNICEF video
VIDEO: UNICEF reports on the Beyond Sport Summit held in Chicago 29-30 September 2010. Delegates attending look to sport as a means of solving many crucial problems facing children today.  Watch in RealPlayer


Among the group were former US Senator Bill Bradley and Dikembe Mutombo, both former players in the National Basketball Association. Lonnie Ali, activist and the wife of champion boxer Muhammad Ali, track and field Olympic gold medallists Michael Johnson and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Paralympics gold medallist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson were also in attendance.

While most would agree that all children have the right to play, delegates at the Beyond Sport Summit looked to sport as a means of solving myriad problems. Their approach includes bringing public attention to humanitarian crises by working with famous athletes, as well as mobilizing resources and resolving conflicts by bringing children and communities together through sport.

Teaching life skills

Sport can also be used as an entry point to teach children important life skills – such staying in school, maintaining health and hygiene, and preventing HIV/AIDS.

Guests at the Chicago summit organized by Beyond Sport, a global organization that promotes positive social change through sport.

It was clear throughout the conference that the messages are getting through.

“Their parents are the ones who are coming back and saying, ‘You know what? My kid is telling us about health and nutrition. She’s telling me about what we should be eating, not too oily things, drinking a lot of water, not alcohol abusing, not smoking in front of them,’” said Jacqui Shipanga, the winner of the Federation or Governing Body of the Year Award for her organization, Galz and Goals.

“So it’s about the child educating the community, their parents – and that in itself – I think it’s awesome,” added Ms. Shipanga.

Key psychological benefits

The role and influence of a sports coach in a disadvantaged child’s life should not be underestimated, another speaker noted.

“When you’re living in the epicentre of the global AIDS pandemic, you come into matters of life and death,” said Ethan Zohn, a co-founder of Grassroot Soccer, which teaches children about HIV/AIDS issues through football.

© UNICEF video
Children playing basketball in Haiti.

“When you have these little kids who have one or no parents because they’ve lost them to AIDS, and they have no parental structure and no guidance in their life, the people that they see every single day are their soccer coaches,” he said.

For many children, sport provides a safe place for them to play, sometimes amid situations of extreme violence and poverty – providing key psychological benefits.

Helping to meet the MDGs

After the earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, the Haitian Olympic Committee (HOC), a UNICEF partner, began sports programmes in the tent camps for people who lost their homes. Roughly 36,000 children now attend the sports programmes everyday.

“A 10- or 11-year-old kid, his world before [the earthquake] was his family, his neighborhood – and this has been destroyed,” said HOC’s Jean Edouard Baker. “What we have witnessed in the camps is that, since the boys now are making friends with the girls, we’re witnessing less violence against the girls. We are also witnessing that these kids now are making new friends, so they are more in a social structure, and that makes it easier for them to go back to school – whereas two or three months ago, they were totally lost.”

© UNICEF video
Sport can provide young girls like this cricketer in Namibia with opportunities to develop confidence and leadership skills.

Sport is also playing a role in helping nations reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, which aim to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people by addressing problems of disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality and environmental degradation – especially those involving girls and young women.

“By getting them leadership skills, it also teaches them to be very self-confident about themselves, and that tackles other MDG goals such as health,” said Auma Obama from CARE International. “Because if a girl is more self-confident, she’ll be able to say ’no.’  She’s not so vulnerable to abuse – in terms of possibly getting HIV/AIDS, in terms of possibly becoming a teenage mom.” 

Beyond Sport also works to ensure that facilities built for mega sporting events – like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup – are made accessible to communities who want to bring sport to children after those events are over. 



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