Original publication: September 2015
Author: Centre of Olympic Studies & Research, Loughborough University: Professor Ian Henry
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The Role of Sport in Fostering Open and Inclusive Societies

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The use of sport for the purposes of fostering social inclusion, social cohesion, social integration, or the development of social capital, is a strategy which has attracted support from a wide range of policy bodies including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the IOC (Council of Europe, 2000; Dorokhina, Hosta, & van Sterkenburg, 2011; International Olympic Committee, 2015; United Nations Organisation for Sport for Development and Peace, 2010), of NGOs (Sport and Development, 2013) and commercial sponsors from sporting as well as other industrial domains such as Nike or Microsoft (Millar, 2009; Nike, 2015). Niessen, in a study undertaken for the European Commission on Diversity and cohesion: new challenges for the integration of immigrants and minorities provides an example of the types of assertion commonly made in relation to the benefits of sport.

The role of sport in promoting social integration, in particular of young people, is widely recognised. ….  Sports offer a common language and a platform for social democracy.  … and is instrumental to the development of democratic citizenship. Sport enhances the understanding and appreciation of cultural differences and it contributes to the fight against prejudices. Finally, sport plays its part to limit social exclusion of immigrant and minority groups. (Niessen, 2000 : 68)

The Role of Sport in Fostering Open and Inclusive Societies

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However while such views about the positive potential for sport to contribute to social cohesion are common, at the same time such claims have been subject to significant critique on the basis not only of the poverty of evidence to support them, but also because sport, under certain conditions, can be a vehicle for generating social disbenefits (such as racism, cultural separatism, sexism, and homophobia) (Dorokhina et al., 2011). Sport is of itself a heterogeneous phenomenon, involving, for example, competitive and recreational, individual and team, combat and non-combat, forms; it takes place in a wide range of environments; it engages with a variety of participant groups or types; and it is therefore unsurprising that gross generalisations about the benefits of sport are suspect. Addressing the question of sport’s contribution to social inclusion should thus be less concerned with answering the question of whether sport contributes to positive outcomes in terms of social integration than with posing the more nuanced question of establishing the particular contexts in which sport might be associated with the achievement of particular types of positive social outcomes.

This briefing note therefore seeks to outline the conditions under which sport can be employed as a positive vehicle for fostering open and inclusive societies and will focus primarily on the use of sport to develop positive relations within and between different ethnic and ethno-religious groups in European societies.[1] The line of argument developed in the paper consists of the following substantive elements:

  • An outline of concepts of multiculturalism / interculturalism, nationality and citizenship and how these may be linked to sports policy approaches;
  • The development of a typology of sports policies adopted for the purposes of tackling social exclusion and their relationship to different philosophies of integration and assimilation
  • Types of social capital and their relationship to the goals of integration and assimilation.
  • Realist evaluation, and the role of programme theories identifying causal mechanisms of change, and in particular the significance of Inter-group Contact Theory in explaining the use of sport to achieve positive social outcomes.
  • The place of sport in the reproduction of European values.
  • The potential role of sport in addressing the radicalisation of young people.

[1]      Since this briefing paper focuses on ethnic or ethno-religious groups it should be recognised that while sport’s role in fostering openness and inclusion for other groups such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, and age, is not a primary focus within this briefing paper, that the use of sport for engendering inclusion for these groups is a significant issue. See the later discussion of the evidence to support the application of Inter-group Social Contact Theory to the ‘reduction of prejudice’ in respect of ethno-religious but also various other groups.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/563-395

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Figure 1: The Values Perceived as Representing the EU, and the Values Prioritised by Citizens of Member States and Candidate Countries (n=32,728)

Figure 1: The Values Perceived as Representing the EU, and the Values Prioritised by Citizens of Member States and Candidate Countries (n=32,728)

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