Sports' rightful place in the discussion

Ben Safran, an associate with the World Bank Group, posted commentary highlighting sports’ current and future potential on helping to positively impact society. Good stuff.

The full blog posting by Ben can be found at, with an excerpt below.


An Unconventional Tactic for the Fight Against Poverty

by Ben Safran, Wed, 09/30/2009

Earlier this summer, Pakistan defeated Sri Lanka to win the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup. Like any triumph in an international competition, there was a great sense of national pride, this time coming in a country with great need for such a unifying force. But, as Tunku Varadarajan wrote,  the victory was much more than just a boost to national morale:

“As Pakistan fights for its survival against the barbarian Taliban…its people find themselves possessed of a weapon with which to vanquish the forces of darkness. I speak here not of drones or tanks or helicopter gunships, but of the glorious game of cricket.”

This is a powerful concept: that cricket is a key weapon needed to defeat the “darkness” imposed by extremism in Pakistan. But why limit ourselves to discussing the power cricket possess to fight the Taliban? What about the effects all sports have to instill happiness, empowerment, and hope in people? Could using sports for development be an unconventional tactic for the fight against poverty?

The powers of sports have not gone unnoticed in the international community. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon notes, “Sport is increasingly recognized as an important tool in helping the United Nations achieve its objectives, in particular the Millennium Development Goals. By including sport in development and peace programmes in a more systematic way, the United Nations can make full use of this cost-efficient tool to help us create a better world.”

Many sports for development organizations exist, and their numbers have been increasing. One notable example is love.fútbol, who develops simple, safe soccer fields for children in impoverished communities worldwide. “The game itself is a catalyst for youth development, hope and inspiration.”

We can envision a theoretical framework for the effect of sports on development, and ultimately poverty reduction. Sports have the power to inspire and unite people. They create happiness. They have the ability to improve educational outcomes (imagine: a new soccer field adjacent to a school would increase enrollment and attendance because of the positive associations created with going to school – not to mention the effect of mid-day exercise on improved classroom attention levels).They empower people and create leaders. In particular, increasing young girl’s participation in sports can lead to great female empowerment, unlocking the full potential of the population.

(The blog posting continues at