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“Sports do not build character, they reveal it.”
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“Sports do not build character, they reveal it.”

There is much more to sport than the hysteria surrounding individual games, discovers Steph Carter, 21, a Commonwealth Correspondent from cricket-mad Australia.

I admit that I am always the first to scoff at fellow Australians whose dedication to sport reaches a certain level of hysteria. Long hours of cricket in the sun, the endless tackling in a rugby match, the festivity that comes with each hour of play.

However, it was the film ‘Invictus’ that quickly put my superior thoughts to rest. While I had always associated the hype and fervour that surrounded a national sports match with stadium-induced excitement, not once did I link it to identity, or the very basic idea of nationhood.

In the film, Matt Damon’s character as the captain of the South African rugby team is encouraged by Nelson Mandela (of course, portrayed by Morgan Freeman) to lead his team to an international victory in the World Cup. Amongst Mandela’s many other competing political priorities, it seems odd that such emphasis should be placed on this one goal.

How can sport contribute to such a tense political environment? How can it build national development? But by the time the credits roll, it seems that the answer to the world’s development problems could be a simple one.

Build a strong and vibrant sporting scene within a country, and you will not only encourage active participation from citizens, but also break down existing racial and political tensions – even if for a couple of hours.

The remarkable aspect of sport is not its ability to improve fitness and burn calories, but its power to draw people of any ethnicity, any religious or political belief, into a world where the rules are universally scripted and where the only worry is if your team will kick the winning goal.

A rooftop game of cricket in Varanasi, India - Photo Credit: Steph Carter

In those final moments of a sports match, it would seem that the only natural thing to feel with your neighbour is a shared mood of pensive excitement, and a mutual bond of identity and belonging: ‘we barrack for the same team’.

In 2003, the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace defined sport, for the purposes of development, as ‘all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction, such as play, recreation, organised or competitive sport, and indigenous sports and games’.

In 1978, UNESCO then described sport as a ‘fundamental right for all’; a tool for participation, inclusion and citizenship. According to the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group, sport can enhance benefits for health promotion and disease prevention, promote gender equality, communication and social mobilisation, and the development of essential social capital.

It is important to remember that these feelings of participation and shared citizenship are the cornerstones of nationhood and peaceful citizenship, and thus, national development. If used strategically by political and social leaders, younger generations might better grow up learning the art of fairness and teamwork, and of identity and shared belonging.

As Heywood Braun put it, ‘sports do not build character. They reveal it’. Revealing the vibrancy and cohesiveness of a nation is an important step on the path to national development.

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About me:

“I’m a student based in Brisbane, Australia. I am currently in my final year of undergraduate study at the University of Queensland, studying Development, Journalism and International Relations and will be commencing a Masters of International Studies in 2012.

“Aside from my study commitments, I lead a hectic life! I’m passionate about aid and development and am involved with World Vision Australia’s national youth movement ‘Vision Generation’. I also work part time in the travel industry (which might explain my love of travel) and when I have spare time, you can find me playing my piano.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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