International Day of Sport for Development and Peace

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Across the developing world, the 6th of April this year -‘International Day of Sport for Development and Peace’- was greeted with celebration. In Rwanda it was marked by a government announcement that a film production crew would soon start filming video stories by ‘Football for Hope, Peace and Unity’ an organization aiming to use sport to raise awareness and commemorate the genocides in Africa. Closer to home, in Tonga, it was cause for a mass Aerobics session at the Queen Salote Memorial Hall, supported by the Tongan Health Ministry and the Australian Federal Government.

Whilst we face different challenges here in Australia, we need look no further than our own backyard to see the valuable role that sport plays in developing a sense of community, keeping communities healthy and active, and overcoming social and economic barriers.

I was invited to represent the Minister for Sport the Hon. Stuart Ayres MP at the Sports for Social Change Youth Leaders Forum held at Fairfield Community and Youth Centre. Together with Anne Bunde-Birouste, Founder of Football United, and Mike Brown, Brad McCarrol and Assmaah Helal from Creating Chances, we discussed with a group of young leaders, how sport could help enable the next group of young leaders in their communities. We reflected upon role of sport in social change and peace at both a local and international scale.

There is great precedent for the role of sport in social change. Who can forget the way the 1970’s and 1980’s were dominated by the sporting boycotts of apartheid era South Africa?  The  boycotts highlighted the visible role sport can play to help drive social change, equality and justice for all South Africans. We then witnessed a great role-reversal when sport again helped bring people together and ultimately heal the South African nation during the 1995 Rugby World Cup which would later go on to be the subject of the film ‘Invictus.’  

At a local level we can all draw inspiration from the principles embodied in such shining examples and apply them to our own ambitions, just as I believe last year’s winning jockey in the Melbourne Cup, Michelle Payne demonstrates. Riding Prince of Penzance, Michelle was the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. Who can forget her press conference straight after the race with her proud young brother Steven who lives with Down Syndrome just bursting with pride!? And what did she -in classic jockey speak- say about sexism and the ‘blokes’ who wouldn’t give her a go because she was a female jockey?   “To those who say that women aren’t good enough, get stuffed.”  Certainly one for equality and social change in sport – though still a long way to go in that particularly ‘blokey’ industry.

The young leaders I met are already working in their communities to bring about positive change by using sport as a tool. Just as Michelle Payne did at the Melbourne Cup, they know sport can change individuals, build communities, cross barriers and unite people from all walks of life. But they need advice from people who have gone before them, to make it happen, so it was great to be there with them to share some of my experience of getting a message across to decision makers.

As I told the young leaders that day, I do think that there is value in the basics: plan your communication, keep the message simple, tell a real story. But there are things that young people do far better than us. Lets not forget that they are the social media generation, and they are best able to harness its power and utilise it to creatively deliver stories. More and more, the advice is about self-awareness and having the self-confidence to deliver your message.

We need to make sure that young people are making connections with decision-makers in real time too. There is only so much social media can do in terms of bring about action on any particular issue. In Government this may mean connecting with a local Member of Parliament or relevant Minister. Any effective Member of Parliament will always value the opportunity to collaborate with members of the community to create change, and will connect to young voters on the issues that are important to them.

Lastly, I think one of the best ways for young people to deliver a more effective message is for  them to be directly involved in the decision-making process itself. The NSW, ‘Advocate for Children and Young People’ (ACYP) is preparing a three-year strategic plan for young people.  ACYP has already consulted with over 4000 young people across NSW, and you can still have your say by completing an online survey at www.acyp.nsw.gov.au.

By becoming directly involved, our youth can have an even stronger voice to communicate the power of sport for social change.